Saturday

21st Apr 2018

Analysis

Starting gun sounds for EU elections 2014

May 2014 might seem a long way off for ordinary folk, but not for budding MEPs.

The next European elections will not reach public consciousness for at least 18 months, but the MEP selections, as well as the slow process of drafting pan-EU election manifestoes, will start between now and Christmas.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The long campaign for the next European elections will start within months. (Photo: European Parliament/Bruno Amsellem)

The 2009 elections were a victory for the centre-right and apathy and a disaster for the European left.

At a time when massive state bail-outs of the banking sector and the gory results of a largely unregulated financial sector were fresh in the memory, voters decided to take it out on the left.

At the post-election Strasbourg session in July 2009, the shell-shocked Socialist group had been reduced to 183 MEPs, well adrift of the 265 won by the European People's Party. In the three largest member states, Germany, France and the UK, socialist and labour parties took severe beatings.

Since then people have looked on in horror as a financial sector crisis morphed into a sovereign debt crisis.

The 17-country eurozone will almost certainly slide into a double dip recession this year and possibly next. Unemployment has risen over 11 percent, while a quarter of young people cannot find work, training or full-time education.

Five countries have required a bailout and more may follow. Greece could even depart the single currency. It is quite probable that in 2014 economic output across the eurozone will be lower than it was in 2009 despite (or even because of) co-ordinated programmes of spending cuts.

Wither the left?

The worst for the left was still to come, with centre-left governments in the UK, Portugal, Spain and Greece turfed out of office.

Although Francois Hollande's win in the French presidential elections was a huge morale-booster for socialists across Europe, only the most blindly optimistic would argue that social democracy is back as the continent's dominant force.

The formidable Angela Merkel remains Europe's pre-eminent politician and her mantra that economic stability can only be achieved through budgetary austerity remains the default setting at EU level.

But if it seems unlikely that mainstream left parties will mop up where will the votes go?

There are several political movements which are effectively exploiting public anger with the political class and the masters of the financial universe.

Economic policy across Europe seems to be dictated by febrile traders in the financial markets along with bureaucrats in the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

This democratic deficit is manna from heaven for protest parties. The question is whether it can be harnessed by a coherent political movement.

Alternatives to austerity

Right now European democracy is more fragmented than it has been for generations.

The political establishment of conservative, social democrat and liberal parties have suffered huge losses as voters seek an alternative to multi-billion euro bailouts, austerity budgets and bank rescues.

Most parties can claim to have worked out the disease but not the cure. The question of how cash-strapped governments can create the conditions for economic growth remains unanswered.

Leftist anti-austerity parties are probably in the best position to make big gains.

With centre-right and centre-left governments both responsible for pushing through near identical programmes of spending cuts, the ideological divide between them appears to have vanished, leaving space on the left.

The Greek Syriza movement is now the second party in Greece, having routed the socialist government of Pasok, while Jean Luc-Melanchon took over 10 percent of the vote in the French presidential election. The far-left GUE/NGL group only boasts 35 MEPs, a figure that could easily be doubled in 2014.

At the same time, eurosceptic nationalism is also on the rise, from north European parties angry at having to bail out feckless Mediterraneans, to southern Europeans furious at the humiliations forced on them by their wealthier fellow Europeans.

A disparate bunch like True Finns, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen to the Golden Dawn are united by opposition to immigration and the EU.

Meanwhile, it will also be worth watching the exploits of the Pirate Party, believers in a free Internet.

The Swedish Pirate Party won two seats in 2009 but, since then, Pirate party candidates in German municipal and regional elections have scored well, and the party will run a slate of candidates as a pan-EU party in 2014.

The collapse of the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta, which would have harmonised international rules on intellectual property protection, but was thrown out by MEPs this July, was a public relations gift to the Pirates.

As a single issue party they will not win hundreds of seats, but it will be interesting to follow the fortunes of this political party for the digital age.

The first truly 'European' elections?

A common complaint of federalists has been that the European elections have never been sufficiently "European," with 27 different national campaigns instead, usually fought on the popularity of the incumbent government.

The pan-EU election manifestos have tended to include little of substance and been largely ignored. In 2014 many political parties will want to do the same, but the sheer reach of EU action will make it near impossible.

The economic governance "six pack," which gives the commission sweeping powers over national budgets, came into force at the start of 2012 and has seen the EU executive demand additional spending cuts from several member states.

The fiscal compact will be in place, with debt brakes incorporated into national constitutions.

Despite Merkel's protestations to the contrary, it is likely that the eurozone will move towards an embryonic fiscal union possibly even with a mutualised debt agency.

The prospect of having a common eurozone treasury and finance minister within the next five years is also a distinct possibility.

The eurozone debt crisis has laid a stiff challenge to the EU project and to the effectiveness of parliamentary democracy.

Two and a half years after the first Greek bailout was agreed, it is far from clear that Europe's leaders have the will or the nous to actually 'do what it takes' to pull the single currency off the life-support machine.

In 2009, most voters were prepared to give the mainstream parties the benefit of the doubt. If Europe is still mired in recession, debt and disillusion, it is unlikely they will vote for more of the same in 2014.

Benjamin Fox is a frequent contributor to EUobserver

Opinion

For the United Statelets of Europe

Alfred Heineken did more than brew beer. Twenty years ago, he proposed a "United Europe of 75 states, each with a population of five to 10 million inhabitants". Today, the idea is more relevant than ever.

Analysis

New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability

The EU's latest funding rules for European political parties and their think tanks fails to address the underlying problems of abuse. Instead of tackling the loans and donations culture, it has simply made access to EU funds a lot easier.

Getting secret EU trilogue documents: a case study

On Thursday, the European Parliament will vote on a political deal on organic farming, following 19 months of behind-closed-doors negotiations. EUobserver here details a five-month odyssey to get access to the secret documents that led to the deal.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  2. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  3. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  4. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  5. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  7. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  9. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  10. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  11. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries