Europe – Elections: Reflections

‘Jupiter’ made the EU elections a referendum

I was asked by an international radio to answer a few questions on my reflections on the European elections May 26. I thought I’d share a slightly modified version with you here.

1. Among the reasons there was a higher turn out in France this year is the fact that Macron  made this election about himself and his program. He even put his face on En Marche Party posters. Macron earned the nickname ‘Jupiter’ for a reason. After six months of Yellow Vest protests, these European elections became a sort of referendum on Macron and his En Marche government. Macron also claimed he is the only rampart against the hard right National Rally Party which has grown in strength. Thus he encouraged many to get out to block the far right. Macron failed and this has further weakened him both in France and within the European Union.

2. The main reason the traditional parties are in trouble is illegal immigration. Both conservatives and social democrats are blamed for letting a large number of migrants into the EU which many Europeans fear threaten their way of life and security. Also, there is a growing rejection of globalization which angry citizens, such as the Yellow Vests, blame for economic difficulties like stubbornly high unemployment in France. One big question in France is that of ‘posted workers’, allowed under EU rules, which French employers, for example, use because they are cheaper than domestic labor. This was also a major factor which led a majority in Britain to vote to leave the EU in 2016.

3. There is no doubt the massive arrival of migrants in 2015 pushed more Europeans to question the role of traditional parties and Germany’s dominance within the EU. But the rise of the sovereigntists got a solid beginning 20 years ago. The real surprise this year is the good showing of ecologists who did very well among the under 34-year-olds. At best, most traditional parties paid lip service to questions of climate and environment. The younger generation are concerned about whether the next mass extinction will begin when they should be worrying about putting their kids through college in 30 years. The Greens could well become the main force to face off against the nationalist or ‘identitarian’ right in a few years.

4. It was clear France’s National Rally would make a strong showing. The only question was whether they would finish first and in this Macron helped by making this a referendum on his presidency. Basically, there has been no real change since the 2017 presidential elections in the En Marche – NR face off. Marine Le Pen’s party has become a permanent front runner and the poor showing of the traditional parties proves the NR is here to stay. By making the NR the party to beat and centering his campaign on that message, Macron has helped the NR become France’s opposition party. Macron presents himself as the only serious alternative to NR which explains why many votes from the conservative ‘Les Républicains’ went to En Marche. The protest vote today is National Rally. The left in France has been practically wiped off the map with the Socialists and Les Insoumis at six percent each.

5. I think the EU will be deadlocked as the new parliament tries to find its footing and new alliances emerge. The EU has been stuck in a rut for a while with an impossible Brexit crisis. Further integration will be put on the back burner as they search for ways to roll back the ‘populist’ surge. Centrists will start listening more to popular anger and will get tougher on immigration. Despite the strong showing of the Greens, I expect the EU to move further right.

This is a bad time for grid lock. Many European countries are in a serious debt crisis and economists have been warning about the future of the Euro. Moreover, the Digital Revolution taking place could eliminate up to 40% of the jobs over the next ten years. Europeans don’t have time to waste to transform their economies and train their citizens for the new jobs digitalization will create.

In a logical world Macron would be a lame duck. He lost much credibility in France by caving into the Yellow Vest movement. The second place showing of En Marche further weakens his image. He has promised to follow through with his ambitious reform program but, in reality, everything was put on hold until May 26. We shall now see if he is a man of his word.

Macron was never able to impose his views on his EU partners, especially the Germans who have shown some impatience with the French president and reject his ideas of greater integration and of a debt union. Macron was seen as a wall to block the far right wave. That is also a thing of the past.

Europeans are very divided on the question of relations with Russia. It is clear the right wing forces favor warmer relations with Russia unless, of course, they are East European nationalists. The Conservatives and Social Democrats still fear Russia is a threat to European security and democracy. Worsening relations with the United States and the US trade war with China could force Europeans to work closer with Russia on international issues.

  1. To see the Q & A as it appeared on Sputnik: