A resounding victory to indifference

Opinion: Parliamentarians hoped to boost the ailing profile and legitimacy of the European Parliament

Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images

Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images

Tue, May 27, 2014, 01:01

When European leaders gather in Brussels today to consider the results of the European Parliament (EP) elections the collective, largely gloomy postmortem is unlikely to produce a verdict MEPs will applaud.

Parliamentarians had hoped that personalising the campaign by turning it into a contest for the presidency of the European Commission would transform public interest and boost the ailing profile and legitimacy of the parliament.

Instead they barely maintained turnout levels – just over the 43 per cent achieved in 2009 (as low as 13 per cent in Slovakia) – and gave a resounding victory to indifference and a new platform and headlines to far-right Eurosceptic parties and far-left anti-austerity campaigners, who in at least four countries, topped the poll for the first time. Time then, the leaders will ask themselves, to give the parliament a vote of confidence by endorsing its candidates for the commission? Either Luxembourg’s Jean Claude Juncker of the winning European People’s Party (Fine Gael) or Martin Schulz, the German Social Democrat (Labour) who is former president of the EP? Well, hardly. Despite her public support for Juncker, German chancellor Angela Merkel is also on the record as saying there is no automatic link between the outcome of the elections and the appointment of the commission president.

Britain’s David Cameron is bitterly opposed to either, regarding both as dangerous federalists, while Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, a liberal, has roundly rejected the parliament’s presumption. “That will probably lead to fierce discussions between the council [national leaders] and the parliament. We aren’t afraid of that,” he told a Dutch website. “The EP doesn’t nominate, the council does that. The parliament can then say yes or no.” Political logic Legally, he’s right. And that’s also the political logic, in no small measure driven by a desire of heads of government to retain their prerogative. Talk of boosting the democratic credentials of the parliament is something for the hustings, not to be taken too seriously, and most of the leaders, after all, regard themselves anyway as personifications of the democratic will of their peoples. A result at today’s meeting in Brussels is most unlikely.

While the election headlines are largely about the success of Eurosceptic parties, notably the poll-topping performances of Ukip in Britain, the Front National in France, and the Danish People’s Party, in reality party blocs in the parliament broadly supportive of the European Union (the EPP, Socialists and Democrats, and Liberals, all of whom have seen seat losses) have between them garnered some 469 of the 751 seats in the parliament. The growth of the hard left and hard right will make business more difficult to conduct, and probably prompt efforts at more formal coalition-building than has been necessary in the past.

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