Which way to sail?
The European elections have brought about some positive results, being a sign of relief for many. 50,94% have cast their vote, since 1994 the highest percentage of people. In some countries, populist parties of the right have not gained as many votes as expected, among them Germany. At the same time there are worrying tendencies: Extremists of the right and nationalists have obtained 16 seats more than in the past: 171 of 751 seats, including victories in the core European states of France and Italy. People that have been just kicked out of governments of Member States for their misbehavior have been elected to the European Parliament.
And then there are developments, we don‘t yet know what they are going to bring about for Europe: The alliance of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats is not going to be in a position any more to have a big enough majority for decision-making, but depend on the green parties that have won in many countries across Europe, and/or on the liberals. And: The Spitzenkandidatenprozess has once again been initiated, yet it remains to be seen where the European Council and the European Parliament are going to find agreement in the end.
Hence, the European elections are past, but where does this take us?
When I skimmed through the press in the past days, one thing has come to my attention: There are many talks about the future of the Spitzenkandidatenprozess, and also about the expected power struggle between the institutions, the European Council and the European Parliament. There are equally many texts and articles written about the power struggle between countries and political groups, as who may be the next President of the European Commission. But there are hardly any policies laid out which a future Commission President wishes to take. A big mistake.
The European institutions all depend on one another. But when it comes to inventing and positioning Europe, the European Commission has the key role. Only this institution has the power assigned by the treaties to initiate legislation. This makes it the key driving force — besides the European Council — for any direction the European Union may take in the coming years.
The European Commission has seen a politicization in the past years, especially of the Juncker Commission. Clearly, this has especially disturbed the European Council, as the Commission as a technocratic body has always been a much clearer servant of the interest of Member States. But, as one may argue, in order to balance intergovernmentalism and supranationalism, this politicization is exactly what is needed.
Now, a couple of days after the election, this struggle between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism is exactly what the power struggle between European Council and European Parliament is about. But this struggle is institutionally motivated, towards the polity of the European Union. What is missing is the struggle for policy. Which kind of Europe do we want? Which kind of Europe do we need? Which projects do we want to embark upon?
When Jacques Delors took office as President of the European Commission in 1985, the European Communities was in crisis. There was a growing feeling of alienation and eurosclerosis, and Maggie Thatcher claimed „I want my money back!“ Delors — aided by other Europeans — was able to overcome this feeling: Mostly by giving it a project. The European Internal Market, born already by former Commission President Roy Jenkins, came to life. The project was completed by Delors with a lot of political power, and it united governments behind — because it was able to enhance welfare for all societies.
It is this type of project and direction which is needed today. Something which unites governments and people and can clearly show that Europe is the answer. If one looks into the realm of digital politics, one may find a couple of issues lying around there. In addition I would be interested to hear: Do we want another enlargement now? Or rather: Can we cope with it? How are we going to position ourselves towards China and the USA? How are we going to unite Europe again? How can we create an atmosphere of helping one another, of burden-sharing and solidarity, of feeling that this is a joint undertaking (which may also help combatting populist parties)? To put it short: How can we make it clear to the people that Europe is in their political and economic interest?
I wished the European Council would invite the Spitzenkandidaten and whomever it considers a candidate to come to its meeting and to answer these questions. I wished the answer to these questions would be public and would inform the decision who is going to be the next President of the European Commission. This may make the European Commission more political and shift the balance more towards a supranational system. But we need this type of systemic choice to turn the tide — and also to kick right wingers finally back in the corners they have come from.