Waarom ‘de ziel van Europa’?

Europa wordt aangevallen. We kunnen deze dreiging alleen afwenden als Europa eensgezind is. Zolang eensgezindheid ontbreekt, is Europa een speelbal van kwade machten.

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Free, after De Tocqueville

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With the European Elections approaching on June 6, we came across this essay from April 2019, just before the last European Parliament election. It is still topical because not that much seems to be about to change, except that populism continues to gain ground, but that Poland seems to have freed itself from the conservative yoke thanks to Donald Tusk’s new coalition against PiS and that Europe is at war with Russia:

(Publication date: 04/2019 Author: Adam Holesch, Researcher, IBEI and Francesco Pasetti, Researcher, CIDOB)

“As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his masterpiece On Democracy in America , “As the election approaches, the intrigue and excitement of the people increase; the citizens become divided into hostile camps, each taking the name of its favorite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement.” If this zinging before elections was a crucial feature of emerging American democracy, then the rushed debates before the European Parliament elections foreshadow the forging of the European project. Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission, put it well: “These are no ordinary elections. This election is about the soul of Europe.” The very nature of the EU indeed seems to be at stake, satisfied by factions that want more versus less integration respectively, strengthening versus weakening of the EU’s institutional power, more versus less Europe simply put.

Today’s hostile camps – to continue to speak with Alexis de Tocqueville – look different than they have until now. The traditional divide between left and right has given way to a new axis of confrontation between pro-European and anti-European forces. The first group includes all mainstream national parties, which at the European level consist mainly of three groups: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the European People’s Party (EPP). Despite their ideological and practical political differences, they share the importance of strengthening European integration and its core institutions (especially the Council), as evidenced by the informal agreement by which they have governed the European Parliament in the past.

On the other side we find the anti-European bloc, which unites parties mainly on the right and far-right side of the political spectrum, including Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), France’s Rassemblement National (RN) and Italy’s Lega. In general, Euroskeptic parties from at least 16 member states have reasonable chances of winning seats in the European Parliament. Some of them are part of existing Euroskeptic groups in the European Parliament, such as Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) and Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). These parties are expected to merge into the new European Alliance for People and Fatherland (EAPN) after the elections, as stated by the (self-proclaimed) leader Matteo Salvini of the Italian Lega. The fortunes of the anti-European project seem to rest on precisely the latter: the coalition-building capacity of the EAPN among Euroskeptic forces.”

From this perspective, the fate of the anti-European bloc is still in play, and the outcome depends on the Italian-Polish axis and, more precisely, the possible agreement between Salvini’s Lega and Kaczyński’s PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, Law and Justice). Both are governing parties in their respective national contexts and together are expected to have more than 50 seats, which would give them about 7% of the vote in the European Parliament. The first informal meeting between the two leaders took place in January 2019, when Salvini visited Warsaw. Apart from their Euroskeptic rhetoric, these two parties have many things in common: (i) a right-conservative ideology and positioning in the political spectrum; (ii) a strong Catholic-nationalist essence; (iii) a hard-line aversion to immigration with a preference for securing white-Christian identity; (iv) and the stated defense of national sovereignty (at the expense of European sovereignty).

However, what appears at first glance to be a good basis for cooperation becomes more complicated on closer inspection. The elephant in the room is undoubtedly Vladimir Putin’s Russia. While Lega has always taken pro-Putin positions (most recently accused of receiving Russian money to participate in the May elections), PiS sees Russia as a security threat to Poland. The Polish-Hungarian alliance shows that if PiS feels that an ally (in this case Hungary) is too close to Russia, it can temporarily withdraw from the alliance.

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