Can Europe Make It?

Underestimating the European election results would be an error

Jacopo Barbati
6 June 2014

The elections are over, and the results are plain to see. We have, inside the “You tell us!” project, at length discussed the elections themselves, about parties, intolerance, euroscepticism, and the EU’s future. It has been like a trip across Europe, its politics and society. “We are one” and we showed it, expressing different opinions on different issues coming from different places, but with a similar and common spirit.

And I’m happy to have been partly wrong about Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Stars Movement, M5S) in this post. I was sure that M5S would have gone beyond the 25% of preference votes, but actually it finished with 21%. This is not a bad result for a party which is not a party, without leaders (beside Grillo and Casaleggio), managers or a clear structure, but it is under the expectations that Grillo transmitted to his activists. The same Grillo said, during a TV interview, that according to his polls M5S was at 96%. He was clearly joking (never forget that he is actually a comedian) but the joke was meant to show M5S’s strength and to instill confidence into its activists.

For these reasons, M5S’s result was considered disappointing and some are now even thinking about reconsidering Grillo’s role in the movement, also because he flew to Brussels in order to meet Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader, and discuss a contingent partnership with him within the European Parliament (confirming my earlier worries). Grillo’s attempts to show that Farage and UKIP are not racist and that everything written about them is false, have not reconciled him to many voters or the activists of his heterogeneous party. Let’s wait to see if Grillo’s leadership will stagger or not.

Unexpected results did not stop at M5S’s “failure”: indeed, more than the 40% of the almost 59% of Italian voters who exercised their voting right (Italy’s turnout was one of the highest, and this says it all about how far we are from engendering any real interest around the EP elections) voted for the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party, PD) which comfortably became the first party in Italy, beating the M5S into second. Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia (FI) gained the 16%, Lega Nord (Northern League, LN) the 6%, while the Nuovo Centrodestra (New Centre-right, NCD) and L’Altra Europa con Tsipras (The new Europe with Tsipras, AET) had slightly more than the 4% and thus gained at least one of the 73 seats reserved to Italy. All the others parties did not overcome the 4% threshold, having no possibilities to have any MEP for this legislature. Greens and ALDE were in this latest group.

PD’s result is important, not only because it confers a sort of legitimacy on Matteo Renzi’s ploy to become Prime Minister, but above all because it shows that Italians are still in favour of the integration process of Europe, since PD, differently from PES (its reference European party), put in its programme the commitment for the development of a European Federation. It is true that, if 40% voted PD, at least 50% voted for more or less moderate eurosceptic parties (FI + NCD + M5S + LN + Fratelli d’Italia).

Anyway, because of the mediocre result of PES parties elsewhere, PD is now PES’s biggest party, thus it can have a great influence on the guidelines and programmes of the whole EP group. And this, considering that Italy is about to take over (from July 1) the presidency of the Council of the European Union, could be significant for the development of a federalist strategy, if it is true that that is a priority of PD.

In any case, this won’t be easy, for several reasons. One of them is that the EP elections awarded a considerable number of seats to eurosceptic parties, 129, with meaningful results for parties like the Front National in France and UKIP in United Kingdom. Even if they have different levels of euroscepticism or nationalism and therefore will animate different groups in the EP, they share the common goal of weakening the EU and any attempt towards further integration.

Underestimating this result would be an error: if people decided to give confidence to such parties with such programmes, it does and should mean something. If people understand the EU and/or integration as something to eradicate, it could be simply that they did not see any personal benefits coming from them. This must be taken into account if one wants to talk about a more integrated Europe.

Last but not least, a heavy blow to the accountability and credibility of the whole European-level democracy could be given by the alleged appointment of a president of the European Commission not coming from the pool of the candidates from the European Parties (with the EPP having won, it should be Jean-Claude Juncker). If this was actually the case, that is to have an outsider as President, it’d be very difficult to defend and promote a European level of politics: people have voted for them, for the candidates. And this should not happen: the future of Europeans in the Union are once again at stake.

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