We are witnessing the birth of a European public space – law professor

Alberto Alemanno holds the Jean Monnet Chair and is a Professor of Law at the Haute of Ecole de Commerce (HEC).

In an interview with EURACTIV France, the founder of thegoodlobby.eu and law professor, Alberto Alemanno, spoke about European trends that are spreading across the borders, the public’s renewed interest in the EU, and how nationalism is spreading.

Alberto Alemanno holds the Jean Monnet Chair and is a professor of law at the Haute Ecole de Commerce (HEC). He founded a civic tech, thegoodlobby.eu, which aims to bring more citizens into the public policy process. 

How can we explain that certain European opinion trends are capable of crossing borders and be found in several countries at the same time?

We are seeing a historical increase in voter turnout in the European elections. This is a fairly general trend.

I think it is also due to the organisation of the public debate: we had an unprecedented mobilisation of the media and political parties around the European subject. This is a very recent phenomenon!

All this has happened in recent months, with a third novelty: European leaders in some countries have started to take a stand on what is happening elsewhere.

Until now, it was almost unheard of for politicians to give opinions on neighbouring countries…

Sure, but on the one hand, Brexit will undoubtedly always provoke reactions. On the other hand, it is now almost impossible to distinguish between European and national policies because they are so intertwined.

This also creates political tensions, such as between France and Italy over the issue of migrants. With the issues that face Europe requiring pan-European solutions, we are seeing more of a comprehensive European debate.

In France, but also in other countries, we are under the impression that campaigns have mainly revolved around national issues, so why is it that transnational issues are emerging?

It is true that during the campaigns, the proposed public policies were rarely discussed in detail. But the main trends and main issues, including Brexit, were identified.

And over the past decade or so, issues addressed by the EU have started to be directly perceived by citizens: EU policies have concrete consequences, and economic and cultural interdependencies are progressing at a high speed.

The number of European nationals living in another country has doubled, reaching between 17 and 20 million people.

Do citizens really take part in this debate or do they just watch?

Not all conditions for participation are met, of course. For example, with a European Council that meets behind closed doors, it is not easy to involve citizens when they are not aware of what is being said by EU heads of state.

However, voter confidence in European institutions is growing, and it is even higher than their confidence in institutions back home! According to a Eurobarometer survey, 42% of Europeans trust the European institutions, compared to 35% of European citizens, who trust their country’s institutions.

On the climate issue, the mobilisation of children and young people seems to have spurred more votes in favour of the Greens across Europe. 

It is the mobilisation of citizens around the environmental issue that has forced most parties to take a stronger position on the environment.

The Greens mobilise first-time voters. Young people do not vote much, but if they vote in Germany and France, they vote mostly Green.

This type of transnational mobilisation will be characteristic of Europe in the future because certain issues are best addressed at the European level.

Glyphosate, food safety and human rights – we see that the EU is the right place to address these concerns, because it can do so, while at the national level no one is responding.

Is it a fad or a trend?

On several subjects, we have seen citizens organise themselves effectively, and initiators certainly inspire others.

For example, although the European Parliament eventually adopted a protective text for whistleblowers, it all started with a request made by citizens and was not part of the agenda of any political parties.

The coordination of citizen groups in different countries has increased their impact by a lot. This is also how climate protests became so widespread, notably through Greta Thunberg’s initiative.

Such transnational mobilisation also works for far-right issues that threaten Europe. 

Yes, nationalist parties were among the first to mobilise on these European issues, such as that of migrants, even before progressive causes gain traction.

Yet, anti-Europeans are unable to create electoral coalitions because they have divergent interests.

Nevertheless, we are seeing that anti-establishment far-right groups are spreading.

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National is established in the French political landscape; and we have governments that work with the far-right, such as in Austria, Poland, in Spain with Catalonia, as well as in Italy.

They are part of the new political landscape: the European People’s Party (EPP) and the group of European Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are losing ground in the European Parliament.

The Liberals and the Greens, as well as the far-right groups, who between them have amassed 175 seats in the European Parliament, need to be considered in this new European public space, which is being created and expanded.

What impact will the far-right have on the European executive?

Even if we find a majority, which could take time, Hungary and Italy will probably send a far-right candidate for the European Commission.

As long as the European Parliament has not appointed the new Commission by next autumn, tensions are likely to arise because candidate Commissioners will have a platform and the power to cause disturbances.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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