The European Union Elections

Arthur Goldhammer
14 April 2019

This year’s European Union elections are arousing even less interest than usual in France. It’s not hard to understand why. European elections are always a referendum on the sitting president, but this year the Gilets Jaunes and Grand Débat National present a far more interesting theater for venting feelings about Macron than the altogether too diffuse field of candidates for the European Parliament. In any case, European political conversation, such as it is, is dominated by Brexit at the moment, so the debate that might have been joined over Macron’s reform proposals has been completely marginalized. In any case, Macron’s proposals have long since been buried by the cool reception afforded them first by Chancellor Merkel and now by her designated successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has shifted the CDU sharply to the right and sought accommodation with her anti-Merkel challenger Friedrich Merz, whom she defeated in the party leadership contest but by such a small margin that she has no choice but to compromise with him by, among other things, signaling distinct coolness toward any reformist ideas emanating from France. Macron’s desire to divide Europe between “progressives” and “populists” hasn’t caught fire.

Despite all this, the polls show Macron’s LRM with a modest lead over Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. The left has crumbled, and the scramble for the crumbs has devolved into a rather unseemly spectacle. La France Insoumise is barely ahead of Jadot’s EELV, marking a considerable fall from Mélenchon’s high-water mark. Hamon’s Génération(s) has achieved the feat of halving his presidential score, while the odd decision of the PS to surrender its standard to the political essayist Raphaël Glucksmann seems not to have done much good for either party to the agreement.

Although pundits agree that François-Xavier Bellamy, the conservative Catholic whom the Republicans have made their standard-bearer, has exceeded expectations, that isn’t saying much, since LR at 13-14 percent marks a considerable fall from even the disgraced Fillon’s showing in the presidential.

In short, this is an election in which there are too many candidates of too little stature and too few ideas. Turnout will be low, the stakes are also low, and nothing will change as a result, which will in turn justify the lack of citizen interest. The European Union needs something to concentrate its attention, but the combined crises of the euro, Brexit, immigration, and Russia have not managed to that. What would it take?

 

Image Credit: Verdy via Wikimedia commons, “Flag of Europe“, US-PD

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4 Comments

  • brent says:

    “What would it take” indeed? Europe has all but lost its North Atlantic partner and protector. China’s belt and road has reached Italy after absorbing major acquisitions in Greece and Eastern Europe, Russia is expanding its influence into the eastern EU, and becomes more dangerous as NATO comes unglued. Is this not enough to suggest a moment of crisis?

    Europe–after dominating world history for several centuries–seems poised to accept a future of complete global irrelevance. No wonder the reactionaries get all the press. The European civilization of the EU’s founders seems to be committing suicide, quietly, in slow motion.

  • Geoffy says:

    The neoliberals are finally waking up to the realization that the Germans, who they have always held up as the example of Social Democracy success, and thus as a hoped-for leader of the pro-EU forces, are actually in their own way neopopulists whose goal is to do Just Enough to support the existance of the EU, without putting the money and influence behind a drive to fully integrate that unit. Germany, the export powerhouse, proof that Globalization works? Well, it should always be remembered that 60% of those exports are INTRA-EU, not to China or America. Merkel and company have played their cards very well, keeping the other members on JUST ENOUGH life support to provide markets for German companies, without the capital to create competitors. And Macron has learned a sad lesson: in his Grand Alliance with Berlin, he can count on his partners for everything, Except self-sacrifice.

  • FrédéricLN says:

    I will run a “bureau de vote”, as required, and I will certainly have a long boring day. I may spend part of it thinking about “for whom might I vote?”.

    “Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has shifted the CDU sharply to the right and sought accommodation with her anti-Merkel challenger Friedrich Merz”: well, maybe, but I wouldn’t relate the substance of her reply to Mr Macron, to being more or less to the right. I would describe it as the usual “pragmatisme” in German politics, and some bewilderment at Macron’s empty and unsubstantial “progressive” proposals. Macron’s more-than-national proposals are determined only, so far, by their impact on French internal political debate, and deprived of (common) sense (see his recent request for a quick Brexit; or his ‘Make our planet great again’ claim). Just do your job to make Europe work, Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer answered, imho.

  • Anonymous says:

    And now, the conflagration at Notre Dame. It was hard not to see the cruciform architectural structure in flames and not think back to Kenneth Clark’s observation, filmed in front of Notre Dame “What is civilisation? I can’t describe it in abstract terms –yet. But I think I know it when I see it. –And I am looking at it now.”
    The gray faces of Edouard Philippe and Emmanuel Macron at the scene said it all: “How can France survive this body blow to our identity?”
    Macron may fail in his attempt to reignite the European project, but as La Pasionara, the Communist orator said, “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” I hope neither Macron nor Philippe will give up: as the fire at Notre Dame symbolizes, there’s more at stake here than mere politics. A vibrant civilisation that extends from Portugal to the Russian and Turkish borders is at risk and needs its “knights”. Let us hope Europe is not now entering into a form of contemporary “Dark Ages”. All depends on the capacity of its leaders to recognize that whatever their differences, they sink or swim together. Donald Tusk, Emmanuel Macron and others who care about Europe must join forces or watch the European project perish.

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