12 June 2019


Sergiu Medar

Image source: Mediafax

Before European Parliament's (EP) elections, the electorate is confused about the meaning of these two concepts, populism and radicalism, whether talking about the right or left version. The anti-European tendencies seem to be vanished, but the populists are being active and drawing their interests inside the European historical parties, meanwhile the radicalists are clustering in new parties, emerged in the last 10 years, some of them already governing. It is obvious that these parties’ number of positions distributed through vote will increase from now on. It is less probable, though, for them to block the European legislative process. To that end, EP must readapt its policies and institutions.

On 26th of May 2019, in all European Union’s member states, it will take place the elections for the new European Parliament (EP). Immediately after the counts, once with the assignation of the new parliamentarians, the political groups will be created too. A political group is composed of minimum 25 members, coming from at least one quarter of the member states (7 states).  

Currently, the 751 Euro-deputies are distributed in 8 political groups: European People’s Party- EPP (218 members), Progressive Alliance of European Socialists – ES (190 members), European Conservatives and Reformists - ECR(73 members), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe- ALDE (70 members), Confederal Groups of the European United Left - the Nordic Green Left (52 members), Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance (50 members), Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group- EFDC (45 members) and the Europe of Nations and Freedom (45 members) and 17 unaffiliated deputies.

Behind these numbers stay their doctrines and political interests. The anti-European tendencies are incorporated in European Conservatives and Reformists group, although the Hungarian party with anti-European stances, Fidesz, remained in European People’s Party group. The national center-right parties have members in ECR, EFDC and Europe of Nations and Freedom group.

It is hard to make a firm doctrinaire delimitation of the members of the European Parliament. Some parliamentarians, usually rightist, are pro-Europeans, as they consider EU as a liberation method for the European economy and others, normally leftists, consider EU as a method to protect the social standards against globalization’s effects. Others, outside these groups, are criticizing the supranational powers and seek to protect the states they are representing, through the national sovereignty strengthening rhetoric. Although debates and legislation are not dominated by EPP and the socialists, often, coalitions are being made based on interested subjects, able to influence the decision. The party regimentation specific to national parties does not follow EP’s rules. Often, Euro-parliamentarians are voting according to their own beliefs and interests.

The elections for the European legislative forum are a matter of secondary interest in all states comparing to the interest they have on their own parliament. The allocated budget, attention and efforts are a lot smaller comparing with the electoral process for the national parliaments.  Parties’ interests are stronger at a national level than at a European one. The most popular members of the parties, alike the future ministries, are not on EP’s lists. However, there are states wherein European parliamentarians have an important role to Brussels for their country, being more appreciated than their colleagues from the national parliaments. Still, EP seems to be more like a trampoline to enter the high-level national politics scene, than a career objective complementary to the traditional national space.

Until now, EP did not adopt legislative decisions to directly influence member states people’s living. The great coalition of populists and socialists, outside the free circulation and the labor right throughout Europe, did not come with a law dedicated to change salaries, taxes, pensions, etc. as it happens across the national legislation. On the contrary, the governing national parties blamed, more than once, the European legislation for the unpopular measures they took. These are the reasons which have intensified the populist tendencies.

The voter does not know what his representative does in EP, but he knows what he does, or does not, in the national parliament. This is why they are less interested in the EP elections, felt through participants number at the polls which has decreased from 62% at the 1979 Euro-parliamentary elections, to 42,6% at the 2014 elections.

Since European Union’s foundation, the big center-right or center-left European parties have dominated the political scene of the old continent. May 2019 might end this era and bring new members to the European Parliament, belonging to populism radical-right, as well to radical-left. If they will surpass the 25%, hardly to happen, then they will be able to block certain decision, though ad-hoc coalitions, reducing a lot the effectiveness of the European parliament activity.

In case of a smaller percentage, the democratic processes will be plenary manifested and the European legislative will continue to work without major shortcomings.

The presence at the polls will be determinant, as it will affect, first of all, the rapport between the pro-European voters and the Euro-skeptical or anti-Europeans. Probably, as it is happening at the national level, the pro-Europeans voters’ number at the polls will not be big, meanwhile Euro-skeptics and populists will have an increased presence, favoring Euro-skeptical or even anti-European parties to express their opposition against the current European policies.

The European Parliament is the only multinational parliament in the world to have members elected through a popular vote. They, through party’s structure they are representing, are reflecting the policy of the national party they are part of. Europe’s population disappointment, which have experienced in the last 10 years a series of challenges like the financial crisis and the austerity policy after 2008, migration crisis between 2015-2016 and now the confrontations with the illiberal governments accused for undermining the rule of law, have embraced tendencies’ development or populists’ parties as well as new political groups.

We can offer as examples: the political French group En Marche, which has placed Emmanuel Macron on France’s presidential chair, the result of Bavaria and Hesse’s elections as well as the popularity increase of the new German party, Alternative for Germany, which basically are manifestations to be associated with populism.

The presence and the validation of the radical-right parties, as well as of populism, before the European parliamentary elections are allowing the public debate on Europe’s future. Mateo Salvini, the president of the Italian radical party Northern League, was mentioning in a statement at the end of 2018 that the 2019 Euro-parliamentary elections will be a “referendum between Europe of elites, banks, finances and migration and the Europe of the nation and the work”, and Viktor Orban, illiberalism’s European champion was mentioning that “if we are not able to get to a satisfying result regarding migration and the European budget, then let’s leave Europe’s people express their will regarding the May 2019 elections”.

The radical populists’ parties are being active only in some states, like Hungary, Poland, Italy, having stronger and stronger radical-right manifestations in Germany and France as well. Even across these states the Anti-European populist tendencies are minoritarian. In Poland, 74% of the voters are pro-EU, and in Hungary 67%. Given these circumstances, the anti-EU radicalists have changed the strategy, by approaching a pro-European stance too, but transitioning the power at a national level, by introducing a more flexible approach for EU standards, regulations and restrictions. 

According to the new radical-right principles, EU should offer the states funds and benefits, leaving national governments the chance to choose the implementation method of the democratic liberties and juridical norms. They think that corrupt European elites, which are ignoring people’s will, are destroying the national identities and are exposing globalization’s risks. The only owners of power should be the national government. Heiner Merz, member of the Alternative for Germany party, was recently stating that “we must go back to free, sovereign and different national states, which can decide their development without foreign interferences”.

The populist tendencies are to be found in all parties represented in EP. These are manifested close to the national elections to attract the electorate. Not all populist manifestations are radical-right. Right radicalism is fairly associated with illiberalism. The leaders of these parties are nationalists, as they are pretending to defend the nation against threats, either foreign or internal, which could go against the national identity. Some of these parties have a strong position in their countries and are actually governing it. The best examples are the Cinque Stelle coalition and the Northern League in Italy, Fidesz in Hungary and Justice in Poland. These parties have representatives in EU’s Council as they are part of EU’s decisional process. They can propose the work agenda or block those decisions to be made in unanimity.

Convinced by illiberal policy’s fairness that he is applying Hungary, prime-minister Viktor Orban was modestly stating “30 years ago, we thought Europe is our future. Now, we think we are Europe’s future”.

Accordingly with some evaluations Mrs. Heather Grabbe made, director of the European Policies Institute for an Open Society, in other East-European states populism is increasing as well, like: Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Leetonia and Slovakia, where some of the parties are governing. These have an increased presence across national parliaments too.

The electoral campaign for May 2019 elections will raise important debates between radical-right European populism which, in order to mobilize its electorate, will draw the attention on migration’s negative aspects, and the liberal democrats, that will try to bring back in front of the electorate the main liberal principles, as well as the challenges related to climatic changes, modern technological achievements and, not least, migration.

Although the national interest is the base of foreign and internal policy, it cannot be manifested but across multilateral relations in a globalized world.

Translated by Andreea Soare