European Election Results Weaken Europe in Relation to US

On May 23, two days before the European elections, the Federal Republic of Germany celebrated the 65th anniversary of its constitution, known as the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. This promulgation initiated the history of Germany’s second democracy. It was a success story, as was repeated over and over again in the presence of all invited guests who celebrated the event at Bundestag. But even more interesting was that this self-congratulation made a virulent criticism of the constitutional authority of the Federal Republic, which was present in all of the speeches made: a criticism of the constitutional court commonly known as “Karlsruhe,” the name of city in which it is located.

During recent years, this body has taken more and more importance, not only in domestic politics but also in foreign politics, wielding powers that, according to many critics, do not belong to it and instead derive from parliament. The latest criticism was triggered by a decision regarding European Parliament elections. The Constitutional Court had abolished the 3 percent threshold that determined a minimum number of voters per party in order for the party to be represented in the European Parliament. The argument was, if you read between the lines, that the European Parliament elections seem to be less important that the Bundestag elections, where the parties needed to obtain a minimum of 5 percent of voters to be represented. All the political parties considered this decision to be a true scandal, and they did everything they could to emphasize the importance of the European Parliament.

This outrage was the result of political elites; it hardly affects the average voter. Another measure had been put in place to mobilize voters: the nomination of candidates at the European level, in which their campaign would be orchestrated as if it were a presidential election in the United States, which televised debates, meetings based on the “town-hall meetings” model, etc. But the result was nearly the opposite of what was desired. While the Social Democratic Party (SPD) focused their campaign on Martin Schulz, the European Socialists tried to make good on posters that were put up almost everywhere, though one hardly saw Jean-Claude Juncker on any Christian Democratic posters. Instead, one saw Angela Merkel. The campaign slogans of the different parties were also tasteless — with the exception of the left party Die Linke, which seeks a reversal of top-down politics and “to make Europe rich.” There were many debates that took place between Schulz and Juncker, but it is necessary to put this word in scare quotes because we are not speaking about “debates” in the real sense of the word. The two men had too much mutual sympathy for one another and had a tough time bringing out any sort of disagreement. Even if this was an asset that revealed the truth about the two candidates, the effect was fatal on voters. One had the impression that there was a caring camaraderie at the heart of the Brussels class, which absolutely did not want to create any harm and which had a complete lack of imagination necessary to initiate a profound change in European institutions and to make it visible to voters.

It was unfortunate because Martin Schulz indubitably had great strengths, notably that he wanted to parliamentarize decision-making structures of the European Union and make them therefore more democratic. Up until the end, voters were made to believe that they could effectively choose between Schulz and Juncker and elect the new president of the European Commission. But this president will, as usual, be chosen by the heads of the European governments, who of course could never overlook the voters. Unlike other European countries, like the Netherlands, France and Great Britain, we cannot simply jump in on the side of party on the right that is the most critical of Europe, namely the AFD (Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany). Certainly, the AFD is a party of resentment that combines widespread discontentment against Brussels’ bureaucracy with the pedantry of certain intellectuals seeking political influence, but it is not a rightist party, and it is difficult to imagine it joining in solidarity with Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen. Besides, the AFD is more of an anti-euro party than an anti-European party.

No Earthquake in Germany

How boring German politics is! The abstention does not reach past historical records, and participation has progressed on the contrary, even if less than one out of two voters voted. The Democratic Christians, under the leadership of Angela Merkel, have very few losses and have remained the most important party; the Social Democrats earn votes — confirmation of the grand coalition which is at work in Berlin. The number of votes obtained by the Liberals (FDP) has been divided by three; they risk disappearing from the German political landscape, a trend that can be found throughout Europe. The AFD won 7 percent of the vote — Germany will therefore also send to Strasbourg a party that is very critical of Europe. But this does not shake up the political class in Berlin. Even the question of knowing if the next president of the European Commission will be Martin Schulz or Jean-Claude Juncker is not worrying anyone.

The excitement about the results of the election is more perceptible in France and in England. The victory of the Front National in court did not take anyone by surprise, but its magnitude was shocking. The triumphant tone of Marine Le Pen savoring her victory was shocking. Although the FN, with this result, has not yet become the “largest party in France,” Germany is feared to undergo a renationalization of French politics, “French politics for the French with the French,” as was described by Madame Le Pen. One has the impression that politicians from other parties have nothing to oppose against the FN’s demagogy. This electoral success is explained by the fact that in parties like the UMP and the PS, positions are secretly defended that only the FN can put to light. The illusion that France can solve its problems through a sort of “de-globalization” is by no means only confined to the FN.

And if Manuel Valls, dressed in all black, speaks of a certain “earthquake” on television, he is not speaking about what the political turning point could be in the future. The demands for President François Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ resignations, as well as the dissolution of the National Assembly, create a belief in the destabilization of French politics that Germany questions more than any other country. One can minimize FN voter success, and, despite the rise of euroskeptics and anti-European parties in other countries, reduce it to a “French exception,” if there were not election results from Great Britain. It is the triumph of anti-Europeans around Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) that makes the victory of the FN a bad omen for Europe. David Cameron had tried to block the growing euroskepticism in Great Britain by introducing a referendum for 2017 — it provoked quite the opposite. We now find ourselves facing an “entente cordiale” of an entirely new genre — a coalition of nationalist French and English people. Certainly, on the night of the elections, UKIP declared that it would not like to work with “racists” and “anti-Semitics” of the FN. But the future will show what will happen when it comes to forming groups and coalitions in the European Parliament. UKIP is still defined as a “Common Sense Center” (in the circle of consensus), but slogans like “We want our country back” seem to be a translation of the FN’s convictions and leave doubt for the future for a rightist Franco-British agreement.

The success of FN and of UKIP can lead — we have already seen signs of this during election night — to the parties already in place in the two countries putting forth political changes in order to prevent new political defeats. In the long run, this would weaken the German position, which would take Germany under a European politics supported by all major parties in the country. France and England, irritated by always seeing Germany as the good student in European politics, would not necessarily frown upon such an evolution.

But the scope of these election results in France and Britain does have an effect on the relations between Europe and the United States as well. These results weaken Europe, and the growing aversion that is not just recent from the United States toward Europe — “Fuck Europe!” — will be strengthened even further. One test that will be given will be the negotiations over the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement.

If the European Union fails to speak with one voice and assert against the growing hegemonic pretensions of American politics and the American economy, the future of the Union and of all of Europe will be put on the line.

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