2019 is not just the year of Brexit

A new, progressive and compelling story to reclaim Europe for the people and the planet has to be prototyped and tested at the upcoming EU elections.

In 2019 Europe will also witness the election of a new European Parliament (“EP”), the choice of a new president of the European Commission and of a new Commission, as well as the appointment of a new president of the European Council and of the European Central Bank. All this under the spell of the next “Multiannual Financial Framework,” a seven-year budget plan for the years 2021 – 27, which will be under discussion throughout the year.

These political platforms will mostly be used to shape the narrative and the structural framework of the future of Europe. The elections will likely become a storywar of two dominant agendas, two potential futures. The pro-European neoliberals ( in other words Europe`s political elite) led by Macron and the nationalist populists led by Orbán. The dominance of either of them would be detrimental for a sustainable, people-powered Europe. 

Photo: AFP

Academics and political analysts have been saying for a while that Europe is at crossroads. It can either step back or move further in the integration process, and this is what these two stories and two political leaders represent. A representative survey of 10.000 Europeans conducted by Chatham House (published December 2017) shows that there are 6 major political groups or `tribes`on the continent:

  • Hesitant Europeans (36 per cent of the sample)
  • Contented Europeans (23 per cent)
  • EU Rejecters (14 per cent)
  • Frustrated Pro-Europeans (9 per cent)
  • Austerity Rebels (9 per cent)
  • Federalists (8 per cent)

Studying deeper these groups, one can clearly see the roots of the two dominant stories fighting for the power to shape the future of Europe. After Brexit, the trust and willingness to stay in the Union has increased across the citizens of the continent, but the question of more integration still divides the Europeans.  And it is also clear that there is a real need for a  new story for Europe because whilst most of us want to stay united, we are also frustrated with how things are running at the moment.

“What we have managed to do this year, next year we will do at the continental level,” – Matteo Salvini, Interior Minister of Italy and leader of Italy’s populist League

Populists have not outlined yet what is their vision for the EU, but more and more of them make comments that show they have the ambition to conquer it. The one thing all of them currently agree on is the need to keep refugees and migrants out of Europe, with policies that seriously hinder the EU`s basic stance on universal human rights and the spirit of European collaboration. Their opportunistic, anti-establishment language has not been backed with any radical idea on how to change the system that causes inequality, armed conflict, and forces millions to leave their home. Despite the populist slogans, there is no real initiative to give power back to Europeans. It is because if and when populists win national elections ( see the USA, Poland, and Hungary), all they do is just grab power for themselves. What we can see so far is that they are in fact – as Werner Raza points out – only against `political federalism` but not ready to rewrite the rules and disrupt the system that benefits only 1% in the expense of the 99%. 

“The true border splitting Europe is the one which separates progressives from nationalists.” – Emmanuel Macron, President of France

Macron, on the other hand, had outlined a grand vision and has been sticking to it ever since he has become the leader of France and for that matter Europe. He wants European sovereignty ( a term cleverly reclaimed from the populists) and sets out to defend shared interests and values for those who attack it internally and externally.  He wants closer collaboration and governance for the eurozone and opens the possibility to stay out ( not just of the responsibilities but also of the right to shape it). This is called in other words `two speed Europe`and would of course mostly effect those member states who are currently flirting with right-wing populism and challenge the EU`s core values. His proposal for the EU has got nothing that would result in changing power dynamics or interfere with the root causes of inequality, unsustainability and unfairness in Europe. Nothing that would guarantee more transparency or control for the EU citizen. Macron`s plan, in fact, looks like nothing but a lifebuoy for the ruling elite in core Europe, a plaster for the deep deep wounds of the old continent.

The stories outlined above appeal to many but not all European tribes.

After Brexit David Goodhart defined the UK’s sociopolitical tribes as this: “The anywheres are the metropolitan, well travelled, better-educated elite; somewheres are the hardier folk from the provinces who have never lost their sense of place of identity, whose decent concerns have been ignored.” These definitions reflect accurately the demarcation lines of those who would support Macron`s or Orban`s agenda. However looking at the national contexts, polls and election results show that there is a growing number of people who do not sign up to neither of them. Looking closer to the citizens of the EU, Goodhart`s theory becomes assimilationist and over-simplistic. 

The Melenchon voters, the Podemos voters, the pro-European, but system critical voters in all countries…the Occupy Walls Street and Indignados activists, Nuit Debuit participants. Mostly urban, educated, probably younger voters, who have experienced the benefits of a united and peaceful Europe but have also experienced the negative side of capitalism: rising youth unemployment, rising student fees, the breakdown of healthcare, brain drain and split families, growing inequality and ethnic division. They could be both ‘anywheres’ and ‘somewheres’, or something in between on this scale. They might remember the war and don`t support divisive politics, or just simply do not trust national governments more than multinational ones to stand up for them. They currently retreat to local activism and `folk politics`and give up the hope of influencing larger systems successfully. They might abstain and ignore the EU Parliamentary  Elections if they don`t see a potential candidate to challenge the unjust and unsustainable system that is also the engine of the EU. 


“We need to reinvent Europe since no one else will do it for us.” – Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi

This is why the single most important thing for those who want a sustainable, peaceful and people-powered Europe is to mobilize progressive voters to the EU elections. Learning the lessons from the recent US, French and Hungarian national elections, and the Brexit referendum, we cannot afford another disappointment.  We can get the energy and inspiration from people like Daniel Termont, the Chair of Eurocities and Ricken Patel, Director and Founder of Avaaz, who have decided to get into the ring and fight the storywar for the future of Europe. A new, progressive and compelling story to reclaim Europe for the people and the planet has to be prototyped and tested at the upcoming EU elections, even if it is not immaculate.

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