Can the next European elections actually be about choosing alternative scenarios?

-di ROBERT LADRECH*-

The short answer is ‘yes’ but this requires a fundamental shift in terms of the alignment of national policies and politics with EU policy competences. At present, in most EU member states, European elections are considered by the mainstream parties of the centre-left and centre-right as the ‘poor cousin’ of the national elections (what in political science we refer to as ‘second-order’). Despite the rise of euro-sceptic parties of the far left and far right over the past ten years, which have done well in these elections, mainstream parties do not devote particular attention, as witnessed in the funding of the elections, the lack of high-profile politicians at the top of the electoral party lists, the lack of concrete proposals for action at the EU level linked to promised national policy, etc. The EU is all but invisible in domestic politics except for the activities and rhetoric of anti-European parties. This behaviour has been labelled ‘de-politicisation’ by political scientists. This leads to the sub-question: have the costs of de-politicisation become so high that the leaderships of mainstream national parties (in particular progressive parties) must now take seriously integrating certain national policy aspirations with policy change/progress at the EU level? For example, making the EU relevant in domestic politics and policy-making, and visibly so to ordinary voters, and ‘owned’ by progressive parties could be in relation to campaigning for a strong ‘European pillar of social rights’. But again, this has to be seen as both a national party/government effort and priority and then part of the goal of PES-affiliated parties in the European elections. Choosing one or two such high-profile issues and making clear that domestic progress can only be achieved with corresponding EU action is absolutely necessary. The issue(s) might vary depending on the member state, but the main point is to begin linking EU action with domestic progress in the public’s mind; up until now this has been separate and this has played into the hands of euro-sceptic parties who have defined the EU contribution to domestic well-being in negative terms. A side benefit of linking domestic change with EU progress is that by giving voters a sense of having a stake in EU progress, the turnout for European elections might improve.

Can Progressives lead towards the establishment of a new kind of political coalition for the EU?

The answer to this question is linked to a certain extent to the answer given above, namely, that national party leaderships of progressive parties – whether in government or in opposition – must begin the process by which the ordinary voter sees domestic progress linked to EU policy change. In other words, voters should be able to recognise their ‘stake’ in what happens at the EU level because it directly impacts their domestic well-being. Such a change in behaviour – i.e. away from what is described above as ‘de-politicisation’ of the EU in domestic politics – would also ‘Europeanise’ national elections. For example, party manifestos in national/general elections would commit the party, if elected, to push certain policy positions in Council of Ministers (or even European Council) negotiations – or far earlier in working groups and COREPER – and this action should be made public in the domestic political system. Such an explicit undertaking would also affect domestic government coalition-building, and even partial success for progressive parties in this instance would be reflected in that government’s negotiating position in the Council of Ministers. I think such a development would also contribute toward building a more ‘organic’ link between progressives in national government (who are also represented in the Council of Ministers and European Council) and the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament. As mentioned above, choosing one or two significant issues that can be promoted as a progressive contribution, whether it is a strong European pillar of social rights and/or Eurozone reform aimed at sustainable economic growth, and having transnational solidarity – i.e. a cohesive as well as coherent position – on these issues nationally and at the EU level can be an important move towards the establishment of a new kind of political coalition because of the consensual nature of EU policy-making.

* Text taken from “The progressive post”