The Brief – Platform wars

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter [EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK]

The lack of a European ‘demos’ is seen as one of the obstacles on the EU project’s road to progress. But a pan-European discourse has finally taken hold on the continent, paradoxically, not to take the European dream forward but to dismantle it once and for all.

This week’s announcement that Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former ideologue-in-chief, is going to set up a movement to bring together extremist and Eurosceptic groups is the latest signal that these forces are growing.

Thankfully, their differences mean they won’t be able to form the “supergroup” that Bannon wants, in order to make up around one-third of MEPs in the next European Parliament.

But their principles, strategy and goals synchronise sufficiently to represent a serious challenge to those in favour of European integration.

Marine Le Pen’s nationalists, Matteo Salvini’s La Lega and other various platforms that they could lead in the run-up to the European elections in 2019, including Bannon’s, succeeded where the pro-European forces failed. They found the right topics and the appropriate discourse to resonate across Europe.

Migration is key, as always. The melody was very simple: economic migrants and refugees threaten our way of life and the very existence of our European societies.

To counter those pan-European platforms and movements, French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to re-energise its positive pro-European tack by joining forces with the like-minded Ciudadanos, the rising star of Spanish politics. The goal is to create a platform of “progressive and pro-European forces” for next year.

The new movement wants to group new liberal parties in Central and Eastern Europe but is also in talks with old players including Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP). The Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera met with FDP chief Christian Linder last Monday in Madrid.

This new initiative responds to the failure of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) to stop the surge of the populists, a party official said. “ALDE was not strong enough to counter it,” the official added.

But the platform also shows Macron’s Jupiterian ambition to transform the European scene after he shook France’s political spectrum to its core.

It remains to be seen if the new attempt could strengthen the ALDE family by exceeding it or further weaken the pro-European camp by bringing a civil war to the liberal family, as the outlook is gloomy for both the European Peoples’ Party and Socialists and Democrats.

Other platforms that are openly pro-European, such as Volt, or which are in favour of a transformation of the European project, such as DiEM25, have also surged.

But despite their enthusiasm, procedures and thresholds could diminish their chances of taking enough seats in the Parliament.

HEC professor Alberto Alemanno proposes to move beyond political parties and set up Political Action Committees (PACs). These controversial groups, especially the unregulated super-PACs, transformed the US elections into the bitter spectacles we know today.

Setting up super-PACs would not be an instrument to channel millions of uncontrolled euros to candidates, he argued, but a move to force the private sector to take a stance.

“BusinessEurope has been very hypocritical, companies should have spoken more clearly against [Hungary’s] Orban or [Poland’s] Law and Justice,” he said.

But it’s not just that political parties were ineffective in building that ‘European demos’ or businesses too timid in bolstering it. We, the citizens, were also partly guilty every time we left unfounded news unquestioned or failed to stop false rumours from spreading.

It is not uncommon to hear, as has happened to this reporter several times in the past few weeks, that criminality in Germany has kept increasing and that Europe cannot absorb more refugees as migrants keep coming in greater numbers.

The failure of many allowed the few to darken the ‘European sphere’. But after the European elections, newcomers will not be the only ones to suffer the consequences.

“Generosity is more than a welcome to strangers. It is an attitude toward ourselves,” said in 2005 Michael Ignatieff, rector of the Central European University (Budapest), one of Orban’s preferred targets.

“It means trusting each other, helping without counting the cost, taking risks together. Generosity means leaving our hearts open to others, it means dreaming together that we could be better than we are,” the former politician said. Unsurprisingly, speaking of generosity and dreams sounds too rosy in today’s Europe.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

US President Donald Trump pumps up the volume ahead of the Juncker visit. He is convinced that imposing tariffs forces other countries to negotiate with Washington. His deal sounds somewhat familiar.

Back here on the other side of the Atlantic, the EU is readying tit-for-tat tariffs on $20 billion of US goods.

Watch out, Brexit is matter for the boss now: British PM Theresa May announced she will take personal control of Brexit negotiations with the EU, as time runs out to get a deal. The odds, however, are not in her favour and is causing some to prepare for the worst.

For ordinary Ukrainian citizens, Central and Eastern Europe is still a very attractive model, especially in the economic sense, despite the countries deteriorated relations with them.

Grab your suitcases! Belarus extends visa-free travel for tourists to 30 days – a notable signpost of the country’s gradual opening to the West to increase tourism and investment.

Traveler headaches could be over soon. British Airways-owner IAG, easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air filed a complaint to the EU over what they say is France’s failure to tackle strikes by air traffic controllers.

Meanwhile, EU judges told KitKat to take a break… and maybe one of their KitKats.

If you are light-hearted, better stop reading now: We regret to inform you that infected ticks and Lyme disease expand because of climate change.

Concerned about Poland’s ‘waste mafia’ earning money from garbage, the Commission has announced that it would monitor the situation.

Look out for…

Final countdown! Can a full-scale trade war be prevented? Look out for Commission chief Juncker’s meet-up with US President Trump in the White House later this evening in an attempt to turn the tables.

Views are the author’s

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