In an earlier Editorial I speculated on the potential transformative effect that the 2014 elections to the European Parliament might have on the democratic fortunes of Europe. I spoke of promise and risk. So now the results are out. How should we evaluate them?
I will address the three most conspicuous features of the recent elections – the anti-European vote, the continued phenomenon of absenteeism, and the innovation of the Spitzenkandidaten.
The Anti-European Vote and the I-don’t-Care-About-Europe Vote
The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth shall be set on edge.
In trying to explain the large anti-European vote (winners in France and the UK as well as some smaller Member States of the Union), much has been made of the effect of the economic crisis. Sure, it has been an important factor but it should not be used as an excuse for Europe to stick its head in the sand, ostrich-like, once more. The writing has been on the wall for a while.
In 2005 the constitutional project came to a screeching halt when it was rejected in a French referendum by a margin of 55% to 45% on a turnout of 69%. The Dutch rejected the Constitution by a margin of 61% to 39% on a turnout of 62%. (The Spanish referendum which approved the Constitution by 76% to 24% had a turnout of a mere 43%, way below normal electoral practice in Spain – hardly a sign of great enthusiasm.) I think it is widely accepted that had there been more referenda (rather than Ceausescian majority votes in national parliaments) there would have been more rejections, especially if the French and Dutch peoples had spoken at the beginning of the process.
It is also widely accepted that the French and Dutch rejections and the more widespread sentiment for which they were merely the clamorous expression were ‘a-specific’: they did not reflect dissatisfaction with any concrete feature of the ‘Constitution’ but expressed a more generic, inchoate, inarticulate unease, lack of enthusiasm not only for ‘more Europe’ but for Europe as it had become.
This early and less pathological ‘anti-European’ manifestation could not be explained away as a reaction to ‘the crisis’ – it occurred at a moment of prosperity and reasonably high employment. Europe was also riding high in the world, a promising contrast with America at its post-Iraq worst. Xenophobia was less à la mode and the immigrant issue less galvanizing – the supposed ‘invasion from the East’ was not a real issue. Europe was not ‘blamed’ for anything in particular, but it was clear that it had largely lost its mobilizing force. Read the rest of this entry…