The results of the elections to the European Parliament reveal the disconcerting appeal of centrifugal forces on both the right and the left opposed to the European project. Scepticism of European integration in general, and hostility to immigration in particular, featured heavily on the political agenda of populists who won votes in France, Britain and Denmark. Their good electoral showing is a rebuke to the credentials of the 28- nation European Union (EU), which is nothing if not a liberal institution.
Admittedly, anti-European political forces, ranging from racists to anarchists, are ideologically incompatible with one another and are tactically incapable of working together. Hence, the balance of power will still be held by the three main pro-EU blocs - centre-right, centre-left and centrist - that have a strong majority of 467 seats out of the 751 in the European Parliament. Combined with the 53 seats held by the very pro-European Greens, the EU's political character is not under threat. Italians, for example, voted strongly for moderation.
However, the gains made by Eurosceptics should be treated seriously. They amplify the pain that Europeans have suffered because of the euro zone crisis and the fiscal austerity that followed it. Political union cannot survive without the coherence and convergence of economic fundamentals. It is these fundamentals that legislators should relook instead of running ahead of the electoral curve in pressing for political integration. Immigration levels must be seen in that light.
On the economic front, the post-crisis euro has outlived predictions of its obsolescence, but it will have to be sustained by concerted, pan-European action that stabilises banks and makes national debts viable. If the EU is to thrive, national policies will have to support regional objectives more thoroughly in the long term.
Brussels, on its part, will have to ensure that it is not seen as the distant capital of a European mega-state, but operates with the accountability and approachability that characterise good governance. It also must strive harder to communicate its policies effectively to the citizens of its member states. That collective support is necessary precisely because the EU is a work of pooled sovereignty.
This is a moment for European introspection. The EU's contribution to a peaceful international order is built on a vision of pan-European cooperation and unity. When that unity is opposed from within, as it was in these elections, it is a wake-up call for both European leaders and citizens. They have the good wishes of others who believe that, no matter how the European experiment is conducted, it is too important to fail.
This article was first published on June 05, 2014.
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