- Following the European elections, “populist” parties have gained in power but failed to make a sweeping advance. They have increased their number of MEPs from 205 to 210, ahead of the probable departure of 34 from the UK.
- At an average 51%, the participation rate in 2019 was the highest since 1999.
- Attachment to the European Union remains strong. Surveys show that 50% of the Italian population responded positively, compared with 52% for France, 67% for Spain and 70% for Germany. Even though confidence in (rather than attachment to) the European Union dipped substantially between 2007-2008 and 2014-2015. Between 20% and 35% depending on the country, at the end of this period. But confidence has risen slightly since (between 30% and 50% depending on the country). And the percentage of the population thinking their country would fare better outside the Union has decreased since 2013. Around 20% for Germans and the Spanish, 30% for the French, and over 40% for Italians.
- The percentage of people favourable to the Euro is stable overall. Around 80% for Germans and the Spanish. Over 70% for the French. And over 60% for Italians, though this percentage has fallen sharply since 2000.
- While immigration remains a concern, the four countries we studied were, by a large majority (70% to 90%), favourable to a common migration policy.
- But dissatisfaction concerning the functioning of democracy in the Union has risen over the last 20 years, notably since 2012, the dissatisfaction rate today standing at around 50%.
- So the major disruption failed to occur. And the idea of Europe and the Euro are holding up strongly in the hearts of the Union’s population. However, we think overly hasty celebrations would be dangerous. Granted, even the “populist” parties no longer boast about wanting to quit the single currency or the EU. But the forces behind the rise of these parties in a number of European countries are still at play and the underlying reasons still very much a reality.
One of those reasons, one that has been thoroughly analysed, is the combined effects of globalisation and the technological revolution, which has led to the declassification and relative impoverishment of the middle classes, or a fear of such. This phenomenon is not reserved to Europe; many other countries are seeing a rise in anti-system and anti-globalisation movements.
However, the decreases in the surveys mentioned above occurred in the EU mainly starting in 2010-2012, i.e. at the time of the eurozone-specific crisis and its defective management. The issue of improving the functioning of the eurozone remains insufficiently examined. And a new crisis would undoubtedly be dangerous, with increasingly costly political and social consequences.
Immigration is also a subject that still needs to be discussed and shared within the Union.
The call to order issuing from the survey on the need for the improved democratic functioning of the Union is not a chimera. As things stand now, institutional reform will not suffice; what is needed in reality is a feeling of stronger proximity between Europe and its inhabitants. Notably through active cooperation implementing European industrial, technological, defence and ecological projects. Even if each of these projects fails to unite all the EU countries. These achievements, the result of collaborative efforts between European businesses, and wherever necessary backed by the EU budget, would help everyone to better perceive the usefulness of Europe in the economic and social life of their territory.
Lastly – and we can all see the growing urgency of this point – the Union of European Nations must also become a strategic Europe. Only such a Europe would be able to play a full role in the new global power balance that is being forged before our eyes, leading today to an unstable confrontation between China and the United States, and from which Europe is dramatically excluded.
As such, defending the European idea today can no longer essentially consist in complaining about a lack of communication or lamenting that its detractors are distorting the truth. Neither can it be based on simply repeating the need for greater integration via the gradual relinquishing of sovereignty. Like it or not, in our current circumstances, this attitude seems to be producing the opposite of the desired goal.
We should thus refrain from seeking the impossible, and instead take an unflinching look at the unresolved problems and intrinsic defects of European construction as it stands today. We should pragmatically seek out any possibility of reviving cooperation topics and processes between the Member States and European players, to achieve together what no-one achieve alone.
After all, would this not be tantamount to updating the principle of subsidiarity dear to Jacques Delors? Now more than ever, what the people want is for Member States to not be stripped of their identity or sovereignty regarding any matter that they can manage themselves. And institutional progress is currently not on the agenda of a number of EU countries. Through new or revived collaborative efforts between European countries, it is vital to enable citizens to open up more possibilities. And, as part of a supplementary rather than substitutive identity, it is crucial to offer them greater control over their destiny. Could this be the start of the rebirth?
The European League must take an active part in this debate and devise new ideas. This ability to be committed and useful hinges on each one of its members. Your support is necessary if, in a manner both pragmatic and critical (and in the full sense of the latter word), we are to contribute at our level to reviving Europe. We need to seek out and promote concrete pathways to go beyond today’s blockages. In short, we need to renew the ideal. The recent elections give us hope that this is possible.