The Brief – This time has to be different

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

‘This time is different’ was the motto for the last European Parliament elections in 2014.

And a few things were different, indeed.

For the first time, the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ process led to the election of the Commission President. Apart from that, it was the same old story: few people could be bothered to vote and turnout hit an all-time low of 42.54%.

On the positive side, the EU parliament remained in the hands of the mainstream political families, which are generally supportive of the EU project. The EPP today has 217 MEPs, the centre-left S&D 189, the Liberal ALDE group has 68 and the Greens 52. These 526 MEPs out of a total of 751 (who are far from being united on many issues) have been able by and large to marginalise the anti-EU forces of different boards.

But what if next time it is really different?

What if anti-European forces from different camps emerge as the dominant forces in the next European Parliament? And what if mainstream parties align politically with anti-Europeans? What if the next coalition in the European Parliament were to be between EPP and the extreme right, as is already the case – officially in Austria and Bulgaria and unofficially in Hungary?

And what if some social-democrat parties, such as in Slovakia or several other East European countries, become even closer to nationalist forces, on a platform of rejecting Western values in favour of traditional ones?

The possibility of an anti-EU majority in the next European Parliament should not be excluded (not least because anti-Europeans tend to do a better job at mobilising voters), with the motivation of throwing a spanner in the EU wheels. Foreign meddling will not make things easier, as the EU is perceived as the enemy in various quarters, not only Russia.

Are the pro-Europeans sleepwalking toward a disaster scenario?

We recently saw the EU sleepwalking into the 2009 gas crisis, we saw it sleepwalking into the huge eurozone crisis, we saw Britain sleepwalking into Brexit – warning signs for all these crises were there but not taken seriously.

With a certain cynicism (or Polish humour), Council President Donald Tusk invited EU leaders to consider change on the occasion of the post-Brexit summit in Bratislava. He quoted from The Leopard, the famous novel which describes the 19-century crisis of the Italian nobility, known for the famous sentence “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same”.

But the status quo is no longer an viable option. The politicians’ experience and political correctness are no longer winning cards. New faces and new political projects can make a big difference, as we saw with Macron’s République en marche.

Positive populism is part of the answer. The political momentum of grassroots pro-EU movements such as Pulse of Europe should be seized.  The silent majority of generally pro-EU citizens needs to be motivated to go to the polling stations.

Jean-Claude Juncker has said his will be “the last-chance Commission”. These may be the last-chance European elections.

The Round-Up

France plans to revamp its nuclear arsenal  over the next seven years, as part of a sharp increase in its defence spending that should allow the country to “hold its own” as a key power in Europe.

Uncertainty still reigns in Spain  – who will be the new president of Catalonia? The Catalan parliament speaker shunned the topic after meeting with the ousted vice president in a Madrid prison.

Can air quality and productive agriculture go together? So far, it hasn’t been the case, so let’s see what happens in the next reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Germany’s GroKo agreement, which even Merkel calls “small-scale”, shows that coalition partners mistrust each other, Der Tagesspiegel reports.

The enthusiasm created by the victory of Emmanuel Macron has vanished. It became evident in Wednesday’s historic vote, when the Parliament rejected the idea of transnational lists.

Did you know that surrogacy is a big business, with a global market worth around $5 billion a year? Find out why European policymakers should weigh in on the ongoing debate.

On Brexit, meanwhile, the EU’s point man Barnier says that the UK faces “unavoidable” border checks at the Northern Irish border.

As always, don’t forget to check out our latest Tweets of the Week.

Look out for….

Shrove Tuesday, end of carnival festivities, time to get serious, perhaps, on reforms, next EU elections, Brexit….

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