A thumbs-up for European unity

With nationalist Eurosceptic forces taking a beating, liberalism, ecology and unity of Europe take pole position

By Author Dr Ramesh Chennamaneni   |   Published: 31st May 2019   12:15 am Updated: 30th May 2019   11:48 pm

Unity of the European community, liberal democracy, regional and global environment protection got priority over local nationalism and patriotism. This seems to be the main verdict of about 437 million voters in the elections to the European parliament held across 28 countries.
The alliances of Conservatives polled 23.8%, Socialist alliance got 20%, Liberal alliance 14.2% and the Green environmentalists polled 9.3%. The much-feared nationalists alliance received a mere 7.5%. Liberals and Greens could increase their votes and their alliance with Conservative and Socialists is likely to check nationalist Eurosceptic forces.

This election sends 751 parliament members from 28- member states to European Parliament in Brussels for the period 2019-2024. European Parliament – unlike national parliaments – does not constitute a government in the traditional sense. Governing coalitions from different countries and opposition alliances work on concrete issues across their parties to achieve an overall consensus.

Key Players

After the exit of Britain, Germany and France under Chancellor Merkel and President Macron respectively are the key players in the European Union. It may be recalled that on June 23, 2016, about 51.89% of the British people opted to exit from the European Community. However, since then the exit agreement proposal of Prime Minister Theresa May has been rejected thrice by the lower House leading to the decision of the Prime Minister to resign on June 8 this year.
Many Eurosceptics have expressed their reservations about the future of this Union. However, people turned out in large numbers with about 50.5% (record since the last 20 years) exercising their franchise. In Germany, the voting per cent increased from 48% in 2014 to 61% this time. Election results from the 28-member states clearly reaffirm that the largest Union in the world voted to strengthen its parliament, rule of law, democracy, and the environment and against nationalism and populism.

In Germany, the biggest winners are the Greens, who increased their votes from 10% to 21%. The party focused on a sustainable European continent with topics such as global warming, biodiversity and environmental protection. The Conservatives, who secured 33% in the last elections, were reduced to 28%. The Social Democrats too tumbled from 27% to 16%. The Left parties lost 2.2% votes and stood at 5.5% and the Free Democrats gained about 2.2 to score 5.6%.

Setback for Nationalists

The biggest success of the democratic forces in Germany was the fact that the rightist Eurosceptical party Alternative for Germany (AfD) could not make inroads into the mainstream as expected. It only marginally increased by 3.8% to 10.9%. In France, however, the fight was quite close. Though the rightist Eurosceptic Ressemblement National polled as high as 23.5%, the socialist alliance of Macron could corner 22.5%, ecologist greens 13.3%, ecology and social alliance 6.43% and leftists 6.3%, thereby effectively checking the nationalist’s plans.

The EU has a population of about 513 million. Its policies aim at ensuring free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market, enacting legislation in justice and home affairs and maintaining common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. A monetary union, composed of 19 EU-member states that use the euro currency, was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002. Containing 7.3% of the world population, the EU in 2017 generated a nominal GDP of $19.670 trillion, constituting approximately 24.6% of the global nominal GDP.

High HDI

All the 28 EU countries have a very high Human Development Index (HDI), according to the United Nations Development Programme. In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU has developed a role in external relations and defence.

The Union maintains permanent diplomatic missions throughout the world and represents itself at the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, G7 and the G20. Owing to its global influence, the EU is called an emerging superpower. It has 24 official languages and has no formal connection to any religion.

The EU operates through a hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision-making. Laws made by the EU institutions are passed in a variety of forms. Generally, they can be classified into two groups: those which come into force without the necessity for national implementation measures (regulations) and those which specifically require national implementation measures (directives). The EU has seven principal decision-making bodies: European Parliament, European Council, Council of the European Union, European Commission, Court of Justice of the European Union, European Central Bank and European Court of Auditors.

Focus Areas

The EU had a budget of 864.3 billion euros for the period 2007–2013. Of this, the largest single expenditure item is ‘cohesion & competitiveness’ with about 45% of the total budget. These Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund are financial tools set up to implement the regional policy of the European Union.

They aim to reduce regional disparities in income, wealth and opportunities; Europe’s poorer regions receive most of the support, but all European regions are eligible for funding under the policy’s various funds and programmes. Next comes ‘agriculture’ with approximately 31% of the total. ‘Rural development, environment and fisheries’ take up around 11%. ‘Administration’ accounts for around 6%. The ‘EU as a global partner’ and ‘citizenship, freedom, security and justice’ bring up the rear with approximately 6% and 1% respectively.

The European Union has established a single market across the territory of all its members. Most importantly, the European social model is a common vision many European states have for a society that combines economic growth with high living standards and good working conditions. All European states do not use a single social model, but welfare states in Europe do share several broad characteristics, which include a commitment to full employment, social protection for all citizens, social inclusion and democracy.

Examples common among European countries include universal healthcare, free primary and higher education, strong labour protections and regulations, and generous welfare programmes in areas such as unemployment insurance, retirement pensions and public housing. Against the backdrop of these election results, many people in Europe remember historian Tony Judt’s argument that the European social model ‘binds Europe together’ in contrast to the individual ‘American way of life’.

(The author is an MLA, and Humboldt-Expert in Agriculture, Environment and Cooperation)