11 July 2019

Are we voting for Europe? No, we are voting for us

Ştefan Oprea

In such an unstable and unpredictable world, so interconnected that any local crisis, regardless of its position, can produce serious issues, wherein the old order is gone and the new one is not set yet, the “everything is possible” thesis, which was bringing some hope in the past, is now producing anxiety, threat and raises questions in terms of our future.

Image source: Mediafax

These global actors who have the intention, power and the necessary tools to build a new global order, when the international law and multilateral agreements are rather an obstacle for the strong powers than a guarantee for us, citizens feel that rules, regulations and governances do not guarantee an equal competition, but a constraint for individual perspectives.

With all this political, cultural and international dilemma, Europe’s citizens are ready to vote a parliament wiling to be that representative political institution, wherein their issues will be debated and then solved.

How’s the Europe we live in?

A Europe that is willing to be a global actor, a Europe that has to cope with many challenges and opportunities in a multilateral evolutionary system and where its future must be shaped.

With over 500 million citizens and world’s second largest economy, the European Union is the first trading partner for most of world’s countries, world's first humanitarian and development aid provider that has the second largest defense budget in the world.

Thus, the European Union is a superpower, but, unlike others, it is cooperative and can actually accomplish this responsibility. This power’s essence is given by member states’ unity and cooperation in defence is, among others, the most relevant example.

As many other regional actors reached the global power status, EU, together with others, goes through a redefinition phase, in terms of its role in this world, being aware that one state only cannot change or determine the global policy.

Each regional power’s will on trying to tilt the balance in its favor becomes, however, a constant tension and instability source, and regional dynamics has global effects. Having many power centers all over the world, the need for a global governance’s multilateral system is obvious and multilateralism can be the proper answer for solving world’s complex problems. A multilateral decision is, always, by definition, more democratic and inclusive.

Therefore, EU, a multilateral institution, can contribute to shaping an adequate multilateralism for this century’s challenges, not only in terms of values, but for following and promoting our national interests.

Given these circumstances, this month's European elections will take place under the increasing global insecurity concerns, President Donald Trump's unilateral trading attitude against multilateral system’s foundations and president Vladimir Putin’s offensive-authoritarian stance, misinformation campaign’s promoter, which is meant to undermine the European political systems. Also, EU’s internal problems, anti-European parties’ emergence and the need to deeply reflect on how to build Europe’s future make these elections’ underestimation be highly expensive for EU.

Therefore, the European parliamentary elections will highlight citizens’ will against foreign threats, but also their determination to effectively contribute to EU policies and institutions’ reform and Europe's political landscape, for the years to come.

The European Union passes through crucial moments for its existence, now that world’s geopolitical system has experienced more instability than ever, since the Second World War, and authoritarian leaders have overthrown international rule-based order at its borders.

If we also think about Trump Administration's unpredictability, undermining NATO's alliance and favoring a unilateralism based on nationalist domestic interest, rather than on international law and cooperation’s principle, how will Europe ever be able to face these new challenges?

European issues facing citizens’ vote

Issues such as economic and monetary union, social dimension, migration, commerce, climate change and energy, security and defence, the multiannual financial framework and institutional issues will be new European legislative structures’ priorities, and their favorable resolution for citizens, will depend on our vote.  

As for the Economic and Monetary Union, the financial crisis and sovereign debt have underscored lots of shortcomings. EU’s new regulations and directives, developed to reach the assumed objectives, have not been fully achieved and measures such as risk-sharing and mitigation, protecting citizens 'economies on a pan-European basis or reducing each member states' exposure to bad loans continue to be debates’ topic, highlighting negotiations difficulty. The economic and monetary union is, therefore, a key objective for avoiding future financial crises.

Migration, the biggest challenge since Cold War’s end, continues to be one of EU's important debates. Managing migratory flows, policies reform and the common European asylum system, EU's external borders’ consolidation and migrants’ prevention from reaching Europe, combating trafficking networks, strengthening cooperation with origin and transit countries, as well as improving EU’s own capabilities for concluding readmission agreements with origin and transit countries shows that migration requires, besides flexibility, Union’s common approach. In terms of these issues, the future European parliamentary structure will play a decisive role in shaping Europe's future.  

European elections will enable the new European Parliament to further debate European Union’s social dimension, where workers’ free movement, equal opportunities and labor market’s access are creating fair working conditions, social protection and inclusion, considering that the economic and social development goes hand in hand. Access to employment, social protection and access to education will continue to be Europe’s major social concerns.

Starting from the idea that EU's role is keeping a trade policy to protect our social, environmental and food security standards high, while addressing globalization’s potential harmful consequences, International Trade will continue to be a major issue on EU’s agenda. Recent developments in the field have led to strong debates within the civil society, hereof, within EU, the public processes have created an EU Trade Strategy, considering that EU can do much more by joining forces with others, rather than alone. Given US’s negative reaction to these actions, the European effort will be complicated, but supported with much energy to strengthen its monitoring role and update international trade’s rules.

The global environment, which is more and more flawed, US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the fact that some countries have adopted insufficient climate change policies, makes this topic Europe’s top priority. The EU will have to maintain its role active within the international climate diplomacy, underlining the importance of transforming energy and reducing its dependence on it and combating climate change. EU’s remarkable progress, made lately (the European Defence Fund - EDF, Coordinated Annual Review on Defence - CARD and Permanent Structured Cooperation - PESCO) has pushed EU’s 2016 Global Strategy to be implemented.

However, global security environments deterioration makes Europe's future dependent on EU and its member states’ joint response to countering these threats and ensure citizens' security, tackling the inherent shortcomings in the common supply market and the European defence industry, as well as to increase and optimize its defence capabilities.

Therefore, EU’s new governing body, validated through this year's European elections, will have to assess the current global strategy, propose at least its revision and set the actions priorities to meet Union’s vital interests. Strengthening security and defence, improving military mobility, including through PESCO and the cooperation with NATO, EU’s own defense structures’ possible long-term evolution to, etc., are topics that will mark security and defence’s future. Especially now, that the Washington - Brussels relation is becoming increasingly aggressive in terms of "limiting" US companies’ interference in pan-European military projects.
The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) remains EU's long-term priorities, which brings the other major topics on the table. EU’s need to provide a budget that meets its requirements and ambitions is a major desideratum and losing one of the major contributors, with UK’s withdrawal, will be a great challenge.

MFF 2021-2027, which is in a loading process, will be, for the new elected representatives, a test on creating new policies or keeping the "traditional" ones, the need to avoid additional taxes for EU citizens, to deepen the link between EU’s budget and rule of law, security and defence, etc.

Without considering topics’ orders as their importance order as well, I will address institutional issues’ topic, as a matter of intense debate between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council. Everybody knows that the European Parliament, as the first EU institution, has called for institutional reforms to relaunch the European project, shortly after the UK referendum. A political reflection to boost reforms’ continuation in line with EU's Strategic Agenda, composed of 27 member states, has so far clarified that, with the adopted statements, the main objectives will be keeping EU’s unity and willingness to answer to EU’s citizens concerns. Concurrently, within the debates, in order to avoid stagnation and accelerate decisions, some voices were underscoring the advantages of a two-speeds Europe. Given these approaches, in a Europe that is experiencing populism and authoritarianism increase, democracy and rule of law’s importance makes newbies’ mission be quite complicated, while trying to listen to citizens’ needs and gain their trust back.

Instead of a conclusion

This year's European elections are neither the first nor the last ones we will be witnessing. But it is not fair to blame EU for actions and decisions’ consequences decided in its governing bodies, given that each member state has representatives at all levels and national parliaments are part of the European decision-making. Consequently, our future depends on the quality of those representing us and the election is the democratic expression of our choices.

Translated by Andreea Soare