The European elections are over: What next?

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.

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