Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

Opinion

European tremors have only begun

  • Like Charles de Gaulle, Le Pen seeks independence toward US (Photo: Blandine Le Cain)

When President Obama arrived in Poland earlier this week, it was as two decades of uncritical integration exuberance had faded in Europe.

Instead of Brussels, the old continent is again led by a handful of core economies – Germany, France, UK, Italy and Spain – that collectively account for more than 70 percent of the European economy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

And several member states have been shaken by the recent EU elections, particularly in France where Marine Le Pen’s National Front came out top with 25 percent of the vote, and in Britain where the UK Independence Party triumphed with 28 percent of the vote.

But what do Europe’s new leaders want?

Away from US laissez-faire

While French and German socialists understand the need for structural reforms, they support only reluctantly the austerity obsession, which has caused mass unemployment, new debt and lingering growth in Europe.

Such measures were first tested in the early 1930s in the US where they contributed to the Great Depression. In the early 2010s, the results have been similar, as evidenced by the new World Social Protection report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In the postwar era, the “Three Glorious Decades” of growth made possible the European social model. In barely three years, it has been shaken to the core by single-minded austerity policies, at the expense of inclusive, pro-growth policies.

On Monday (2 June), when the European Commission demanded Paris to take further action to cut its budget deficit to the EU’s 3 percent limit, Brussels virtually ensured its own isolation in the future and the further expansion of Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

Unsurprisingly, a policy response is in progress.

In July, Italy will take over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency. PM Matteo Renzi will still be riding the sweeping victory of the EU vote, which saw his PD party win a massive 41 percent.

He will try and force economic and institutional reforms domestically and could initiate a historic compromise in Brussels.

Instead of exclusive focus on austerity, Renzi hopes to focus on a lower deficit, but slow the timetable for debt-reduction.

In France, Marine Le Pen denounces the “Europe of Brussels”, supports protectionist measures, and opposes unbridled free trade, supranationalism, the euro and the Eurozone.

Multipolar eurosceptic Union?

As President Obama unveiled his $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative”, optimists saw Washington’s return to Europe, while pessimists argued it was too little too late.

In 2013, US military spending amounted to $640 billion. The European initiative represents 0.15 percent of the total.

In the West, protest Europe’s fascination with Russian President Putin is usually explained by autocratic inclinations. But the realities are more complex.

Marine Le Pen advocates a privileged partnership with Russia, which is necessitated by “obvious civilisation and geostrategic factors” as well as “energy security interests”.

She believes the ongoing process of demonisation of Russia and Putin at Brussels and Washington is a pretext for the creation of a “unipolar world”.

Like UKip’s Lafarge, Le Pen often demanded Paris to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. She rejected efforts to involve France in the Libyan conflict and has denounced Atlanticist interventions. Like Charles de Gaulle, she seeks independence toward US.

These ideas have unleashed much concern in Washington, which had hoped to complete the EU-US free trade agreement.

From China’s standpoint, the new approach toward multipolarity is reminiscent of Chirac’s ideas over a decade ago.

The eurosceptic tremors have only begun

In Brussels, the political middle remains in majority.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and social democrats (S&D) still dominate with 54 percent of the seats, while the liberal-centrists (ALDE) and the greens have around 16 percent.

European integration did not die, but took a heavy hit.

In the process, the share of (largely eurosceptic) independents soared to almost 14 percent. Meanwhile, the left-green socialists, anti-federalist (ECR) and eurosceptic, rightist (EFD) beat the moderate fringe groups accounting for 17 percent of the vote.

In the coming months, the moderate middle hopes to coopt the protest parties, while the latter hope to tax the incumbents’ support. Instead of “more Europe”, the winning protest parties want to foster sovereign states and a looser federation.

With lingering recovery, European decision-making should now be decisive, fast and consolidated. But that’s precisely what’s not going to happen. Instead, strong consensus may be replaced by fragmented sectarian struggles.

Meanwhile, both Washington and Beijing wonder how far Europe’s protest will go.

The writer is research director of international business at the India China and America Institute in the US and a visiting fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies in China and the EU Centre in Singapore.

The commentary is an updated version of the original released by China-US Focus on 3 June, 2014.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU elections may strengthen Putin in Europe

Far-right parties are set to do well in next month’s elections to the European Parliament, a fact that has thrown a spotlight on their links with the Kremlin.

Agenda

Obama back in Brussels this WEEK

US President Obama is back in the EU capital this week for a summit of G7 wealthy nations to be dominated by Ukraine.

Cleaning up both the EU and Western Balkans

There has been little substantial analysis, since the Macron veto, of why so much money and effort in the Balkans has failed to result in the political and economic transformation needed to prepare candidates for full membership.

EU 'all bark and no bite' on disinformation

The list of suspects orchestrating foreign influence campaigns is growing. The likes of China, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia are also tapping into Russia's disinfo playbook.

Column

The last convulsions of the old world order

If European countries want a strong role in this new order, they must redefine sovereignty and update it. This means that only if Europeans are prepared to pool power, they can help lay the foundations for new international institutions.

News in Brief

  1. Belgian asylum centre set on fire
  2. Xi Jingping in Athens promises new investment
  3. Farage's Brexit Party will not stand in Tory-held seats
  4. British founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' found dead
  5. Eight member states ask for EU aviation tax
  6. EU allocates €55m humanitarian aid to Sudan
  7. EU's climate contribution exceeds €20bn annually
  8. EU-Singapore trade deal enters into force this month

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK
  2. Bosnia wants explanation for Macron's 'time-bomb' remark
  3. MEPs slam Commission over common charger delay
  4. Erdogan: refugees will enter Europe unless EU does more
  5. Cleaning up both the EU and Western Balkans
  6. Can Sunday's election end Spain's endless deadlock?
  7. Up to 750 European children trapped in north-east Syria
  8. EU and China agree to defend 'gastronomic jewels'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us