Tuesday

16th Apr 2024

Political battles risk paralysing new EU parliament

  • 'The debate will be between pro-European and anti-Europeans' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

With the rise of euroscepticism on both the political left and right, simply retaining the current level of European integration during the next EP mandate will be a victory, says a veteran Brussels-based EU lobbyist.

Thomas Tindemans, head of Hill&Knowlton in Brussels, suggests that the changes in the next parliament will be such that previously technical discussions on legislation could be replaced by ideological disagreements on fundamental EU principles.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Noting that both extremes of the political spectrum are "fundamentally against the EU", Tindemans says: "If they can form important groups, if they can get rapporteurs, committee presidencies then you'll have a whole other debate."

"Instead of the mostly technical work now, you'll have a debate where fundamental principles are put into question: against the internal market or free movement, in favour of protectionism," says Tindemans, who has worked as a lobbyist for over two decades.

"So, if during the next [five year] mandate we manage to keep the integration we have now, that will already be a victory."

Looking ahead to the next European Parliament, where finding majorities for proposals is expected to be more difficult, Tindemans, a Belgian national, says the key question will be whether "the big parties co-operate sufficiently, or whether populism will prevail".

He reckons the new political contours of the parliament will mean that the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D will be "doomed to join forces".

This in turn will limit the nuance of political debate: "The present alternative majorities will no longer be possible. The debate will be between pro-European and anti-Europeans."

Meanwhile, even if groups will nominally remain the same, their make-up is likely to be very different. The current Liberal group has liberal and centrist pro-Europeans: "Will the balance between them shift?"

The anti-federalist ECR group is at the moment dominated by British Conservatives. But after the vote, they are set to be outnumbered by Poles. Will this have an effect on free trade, asks Tindemans?

And the big open question is whether France's Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Front, will be able to form a group with the Dutch Freedom Party.

Don't fall for euroscepticism

Addressing businesses, the lobbyist says companies should not fall for euroscepticism.

"Companies are sometimes tempted by euroscepticism because of the many regulatory interventions during the previous mandate. But they should realise that eurosceptics are against the single market, against free trade, in favour of new barriers. This is not a model for growth and jobs."

"Companies should subscribe to the agenda of economic growth and job creation and ... should develop their arguments in that framework," he notes.

Tindemans says he has seen a shift in policy emphasis since the beginning of the crisis.

The trend in EU Institutions has been towards consumer protection, which is more about "restriction" and about "public intervention".

This, he says, is the flip side of liberalisation.

He points to a simple word search of EU databases saying that 25 years ago the most used words were 'internal market': "It was all about facilitating cross-border activities, removing barriers."

"Around the turn of the century, the words 'green' or 'ecological' or 'climate' were in every proposal. And now, since the beginning of the crisis, it's all about 'consumer protection'."

This, says Tindemans, is a result of a public that interacts more with institutions, and says what it wants, particularly on social media.

It is also partly a reaction to rising euroscepticism. The institutions were "looking for a new role, one that favours the citizen. This is why in the power balance between stakeholders, those defending the citizens and the consumers have a growing impact".

Nevertheless, he says that much of the legislation is at the request of companies: "For example, saving the euro and getting rid of the consequences of the crisis is the most pro-business decision possible."

The political dilemma

The next five years will be all about economic growth and job creation, which creates a natural dilemma. To do this "we have to deepen the internal market, but political forces go in the opposite direction".

"Stability and predictability are good for the economy," says Tindemans. "But to stimulate growth and jobs, other instruments will have to be added."

"Energy policy will be crucial. Research and innovation should also be a top priority."

Analysis

Power struggle looms after EU vote

In just over three week's time the European elections will be over but a new process will have just begun – an immense power struggle between the EU  institutions.

UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'

EU and UK negotiators said that a new post-Brexit settlement for Gibraltar was just weeks away from completion following four-way talks in Brussels on Friday (12 April).

Ukraine's farmers slam EU import controls on food products

The paradoxical move to tighten EU import controls on agricultural goods from Ukraine, despite the EU's vocal support for Kyiv, has sparked criticism from Ukrainian farmers. Overall, it is estimated the new measures could cost the Ukrainian economy €330m.

Opinion

The Bolsonaro-Orbán far-right nexus

Defeated far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has given various reasons for sheltering at the Hungarian embassy in Brasilia — none of them make sense.

Latest News

  1. EU puts Sudan war and famine-risk back in spotlight
  2. EU to blacklist Israeli settlers, after new sanctions on Hamas
  3. Private fears of fairtrade activist for EU election campaign
  4. Brussels venue ditches far-right conference after public pressure
  5. How German police pulled the plug on a Gaza conference
  6. EU special summit, MEPs prep work, social agenda This WEEK
  7. EU leaders condemn Iran, urge Israeli restraint
  8. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us