WASHINGTON – The results of the European Parliament elections simply reconfirm what most analysts should have already known: The European Project run out of steam –long ago. Europe is not and it is not going to be a new vibrant entity, a consciously crafted Federation fueled by the active and enthusiastic contributions of all of its components, the old nations states.
Europe is at best mostly a “Super Chamber of Commerce”, a regulatory arrangement run by an unelected executive and armies of bureaucrats whose focus is to regulate everything, including prescribing, in detail, the appropriate sizes of cucumbers and other vegetables, (this is not a joke), while mandating standards on all sorts of other matters.
Germany imposed austerity
After the 2008 World Crisis, Germany and other better performing countries forced the rest of (profligate and undisciplined) Europe, (mostly Mediterranean countries), to tighten their belts. Simple recipe: “You are in debt because you overspent. Well, time to cut spending and start saving in order to rebalance the books. And, as you are it, start working, even if you have to do it for less money”.
Needless to say, this sound advice was not well received. This austerity policy recipe was portrayed by the worst offenders as a political diktat, as an imposition that forced them to cut public services, fire civil servants, diminish pensions and other entitlement spending.
We suffer because of Europe
Hence the fable that Greece was suffering not because of its policies but because of the evil plans of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Never mind that different Greek governments had run unacceptable deficits, while cooking the books and publishing false information about debt, revenue and a lot more. Never mind that Spain had created an unsustainable real estate bubble that finally exploded creating Depression Era unemployment in excess of 25%.
Anti-European feeling now widespread
In the end, Europe did not fall apart. Brussels is no longer in a crisis management mode. Nonetheless, the crisis allowed millions of Europeans to form the opinion that their misery was the result of bad –or indeed hostile– European policies. Many politicians created and fueled the myth that things could have been a lot better if their country did not have to implement unjust spending restrictions imposed by Brussels or by the European Central Bank. In other words Europe is no longer a benign vehicle of future aspirations. It is the malevolent stepmother trying to harm us.
New favor for nationalist forces
And so, when European public opinion had an opportunity to express itself via a vote to renew a European Parliament whose purposes and functions nobody knows anything about, millions of Europeans voted for political parties that claim to represent the national interest against this unrepresentative and at the same time heavy-handed Europe.
In France it has been a disaster for the governing Socialists who have been outnumbered not just by the center right opposition but by the far right National front –an openly anti-European, nationalist and xenophobic force– that has emerged as the clear winner.
In the UK the Euroskepitcs of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), carried the day. And there have strong showings of nationalist, anti-European parties almost everywhere, from Hungary to Greece.
Italy seems to be the bright exception. The centre left Democrats, the ruling party, won the elections, by a large margin, (40%). The anti-establishment 5 Stelle, (5 Stars), movement did OK, (20%); but a lot worse than in national elections in which it had received 25%.
So, Italy now run by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a young energetic reformer seems to be a solid pro-Europe pillar. Well, not so fast. This was mostly a pro-Renzi, as opposed to a pro-Europe vote. There is hope that his reforms will achieve something; and so the Italians wanted to show support for him and his party.
Beyond that, the pro-European vote expressed by the Italians is essentially meaningless. Italy is one of Europe’s worst performers. Sky high debt, zero growth for the last 14 years. More than 11% unemployment. Gigantic youth unemployment. One of the most corrupt countries in the European Union and the perennial laggard, the non compliant state, constantly behind in implementing European mandates.
And, by the way, Renzi’s “pro-European stance” lacks detail. Renzi’s Democrats won by asserting that the party is pro-Europe, but against austerity, the most important European policy mandate. A bit like saying that: “I am totally in favor of the military draft, as long as we agree that I am exempted”. In other words, Italy’s strong pro-European showing is meaningless, because Italy is the most unserious large member of the EU.
Back to Fascism?
As for the fears that the rest of Europe is going down the path of dangerous nationalism, a dark force that makes us think of Fascism and Nazism and disastrous conflicts, I would say that these concerns are exaggerated.
With these elections the Europeans vented their emotions. Many voters declared that they do not like this Europe. But, may be with the exception of France, they lack the strategic vision and the intelligence to craft alternatives. Besides, the fact that the far right won in France is not an indication that soon enough France will go to war with Germany.
Dream of a true European Union is over
That said, one thing is clear. This Europe of complicated inter-governmental arrangements that the general public does not understand, this Europe of functionaries and mandates does not resonate with the voters.
This Europe is not a laboratory of innovation and vibrant new ideas. It is an uninspiring and overly complicated mechanism holding together nations mostly in decline.