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The EU Election Hangover Edition

30 May 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?
 
What a difference a week makes, 168 little hours. On the morning of Monday 27 May, the European Union woke up to a new dawn. The results of an election (country by country) that would define Europe’s future for the next five years and those results were better than expected. The far right did not take as many seats as the doomsayers predicted, but enough to shake the foundations of two of the EU largest nations Emmanuel Macron’s France, who came second to Marine Le Pen and Italy where Matteo Salvini’s Lega won big, not to mention the Brexit Party in the UK and far-right gains in Belgium. On the other side of the spectrum, the Greens rode a wave of climate consciousness to gain 15 seats to their highest ever showing in the European Parliament especially in Germany and northern countries. The loser of the night was the European centre. The EPP still came out as the most voted party but hemorrhaged 37 seats, whilst the S&D lost despite a big win in Spain and Portugal. The big winner of the night was the turnout. 50.5% out of a voting pool of more than 400 million people who were eligible to vote.

 

Why it matters

 

Let the hunger games begin! The split in the vote has resulted in the ‘Dutchifaction’ of consensus EU politics and the ‘Brussels pact’ between the EPP and S&D well and truly dead in the water. This has a series of consequences for the upcoming horsetrading between the EU institutions and member states for the top EU jobs. After its inaugural iteration in 2014, the spitzenkandidat process, where the Commission President is elected by the European Parliament majority, is under attack by a European Council who are nervous to yield more power to an evermore unpredictable Parliament. Member states leaders, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel have met with others, such as Spanish socialist kingmaker Pedro Sanchez, this week in a special European Council meeting to start the negotiation. Tragically, the actual ‘spitzenkandidaten’ have been toiling and working on the campaign trail (some even lost weight) to no apparent gain as Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans are looking to lose their primacy to Margarethe Vestager within the ‘Spitzenkandidats’ or to outsiders Kristalina Georgieva, Michel Barnier or even Angela Merkel herself.

 

The takeaway
 
The balance of power in the Parliament, and therefore in the EU has shifted. Nonetheless, the criteria for the top jobs including the Commission President continues to be the same. Firstly, the individual has to be palatable to the Franco-German entente, if they are not indeed French or German. Secondly, the person must have a public profile beyond the EU that is why former prime ministers, presidents and other national heroes are usually chosen. Thirdly, and this is especially true for European Central Bank President, is a demonstrable competence in their field, although this was almost obviated for High Representative Federica Mogherini who was previously Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs for only a few months. And so, an x-factor is needed this time round to break with the usual, in an unusual Commission following an unusual election. Our suggestion is the ‘xx’ factor. Aside from a gender equal college of commissioners, which should be a no-brainer, the top EU jobs should be split between men and women. Politico has already suggested a whole host of women candidates of which one ticks all the boxes for President, according to the Economist. It is the only just way to obviate the spitzenkandidat process this time around and a historic chance to set an example of gender equality at the highest level of European politics, traditionally an old boy’s club.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

The percentage of the Belgian electorate that turned out for the European elections. It helps that they have compulsory voting and also had regional and federal elections but we’ll take what we can get. Slovakia, on the other hand, came through with 22.74% of the electorate, a whopping 9% over their 2014 record of around 13%. The total turnout for the EU resulted in 50.5%, the highest in 20 years, after the historic low of 42.6% in 2014.

The number of candidates that the pan-European movements of Volt and DIEM25 won between them in the European election. DIEM which campaigned under the name ‘European Spring’ was the brainchild of former Greek Finance Minister and enfant terrible of the Eurogroup, Yanis Varoufakis, and although he himself campaigned for a seat in Germany, he did not get in nor did any of their other candidates. On the Volt side, a movement that started just 2 years ago and ran in eight countries and saw its German candidate get elected with 0.7% of the total vote. Check out our own audio interview with Danish Volt candidate in Belgium, Katherine Richter.

The percentage of voters aged under 30 who voted for the Green Party in Germany. The German Greens were the most successful of a ‘Green Wave’ that took over most of Europe, especially in central and Northern Europe. Propelled by the activism of Greta Thunberg, millennials and younger people made their clear imprint on the European Parliament for the next 5 years to be that of climate action and sustainability. However, millennials are also attracted to the novelty and lure of the far-right with Marine Le Pen’s first-place result in France largely due to support from millennials aided no doubt by the fresh-faced 23-year-old lead candidate Jordan Bardella.

A Message From Our Partners

The EFF — European Future Forum held its first general assembly at the European Parliament in Brussels, bringing together a large variety of NGOs and civil society organisations to share their projects with each other, workshop new initiatives and improve their communication skills and methodologies.
 
The EFF is the first European Communication and Project Development Network. It is open to any organisation and individual. For more information, visit their website.

4. Quotes of the Week

“Brexit has been a vaccine against anti-EU propaganda and fake news.”

The words of Donald Tusk as he evaluated the results of the EU elections on Tuesday evening. Fresh out of a special EU Council summit, he said that the spectacle of Brexit has put off anti-EU parties from going too hard on the EU during these elections as well as anti-EU propaganda and fake news. It seems to have worked in the UK as well as, even though the Brexit party came out first, a broad church of ‘bollocks to Brexit’ parties (Liberal Democrats, Greens, et al.) took more of the vote than the hard-Brexit or the Brexit ambiguous Labour / Conservative dichotomy. If only more Brexiteers would vaccinate.

“It’s not easy: a result in the EU election that doesn’t make us happy; the president of the party in prison,”

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă on a bad week for the Romanian Socialists. The ruling party who took a beating in the European elections and lost a referendum was compounded with the jailing of the party leader, Liviu Dragnea, for three and a half years. The conviction was based on corruption charges dating back to 2008 when he was a local councilor. The referendum that they lost, by the way, was whether the government should be allowed to offer pardons and amnesty in corruption cases. Go figure.

“He said, ‘Never forget that compromise is not a dirty word. Life depends on compromise.’ He was right.”

UK Prime Minister Theresa May quoting a WWII hero constituent in her resignation speech. In what resembled a soap-opera season finale, Mrs. May emotionally delivered a speech on Friday announcing her resignation on 7 June (in order to clock up a few more days on the PM leaderboard). The resignation was the result of a series of Brexit missteps that saw her not deliver her much-reviled Withdrawal Agreement and the Conservative Party come fifth in the European elections. The emotion at the end of the speech was called out by left-leaning columnist Owen Jones in a fiery take down of her policies in the past years. For our part, we will miss her Frida Kahlo bracelets and incredibly awkward dances.

5. Video of the Week

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