The partygraphy of the EU elections: Is it the crisis?

Most European governments have dealt with some serious issues in their countries. Some of these issues were induced from struggling governments trying to escape the prolonged Eurozone crisis.

At first glance, the economic oscillation created within the Eurozone could have been a major factor leading voters to choose “alternative” parties. This is understandable as a deteriorating economic situation converts to frustrations resulting in irrational voting behaviors. The Anti-something parties that are gaining territory throughout the European Union, mainly exploit such common frustration with populist and sometimes manipulative speeches. Their political debates are entangled between topics on how things were much better before the EU came to existence, or against the hidden malicious dragon of capitalism, or against multiculturalism that bombed their national societies. By doing so, they put to use the weak memory of Europeans and their relativism of the situation.

Apparently not many remember that before the de facto initiation of the European Union (with the European Coal and Steel Community) there was a War and by no means were peoples’ lives better than now.

Nevertheless, a look into the broader picture we observe that voters in countries less (or not at all) influenced from the crisis, have almost the same voting patterns concerning far–right parties. So the effect of the Eurozone crisis in this election is not a solid argument for all the countries. This is especially true for countries where the crisis had less or no effect at all, including most of the Nordic countries or others, such as Netherlands or Austria. It was striking to see that even the Neo-Nazis in Germany managed to have their seat, despite the fact that Germany’s economy is rampant, constantly rising and shining every passing year. The same goes for Austria, where a controversial party like Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) exceeded the electoral expectations, despite the country’s lack of being affected from the crisis. So apparently the reasons behind such an outcome are not solely due to the supposed Eurozone crisis.

Overall the partygraphy of European Parliament(EP) has a slightly different design now, even though both groups of center-right European People Party (EPP) and center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are still in the lead. However, is too early to project the future coalitions and decision of the EP, but surely with all these Anti-something parties it will be tougher to keep up a healthy European dream.

What do the far-right wings offer?
Despite their political program and their promises to save the countries from “something” (put your individual countries imaginary and real problems in the something) unfortunately they have become one of the few alternatives in the political atmosphere of Europe. Most of these parties are at times becoming the only alternative within their own country and also within the European Union itself. As many would claim, the votes gained from NF in France, were primarily a sign of protest against the current political devise of Mr. Hollande and France role in EU. Some would argue that the French are annoyed by the compromises and declining power of France in the EU.

The same goes for most of the votes that the radicals, being left of right, got in these elections across EU (despite the fact that it cannot be easily generalized). As could be assumed, these votes were not won because the extremists did a great job, but because the leading parties did a poor job. Personally I would not consider this a wise decision, but nevertheless I understand.

Most of the far-right party programs are ephemeral and temporary as the party itself. If UKIP’s objective to have UK out of the EU, by any chance gets fulfilled, then normally this party should cease to exist, unless of course Mr. Farage alters the party’s objective to world domination. The same temporality could be assumed for most of the Anti-EU parties, which wouldn’t exist without the existence of EU. Honestly, they should also voluntarily renounce their salaries from the EU institutions if their intentions are genuinely aligned with their objectives.

What did we learn from this election?
First of all we should not forget the obvious. Only 43.1% of the 375 million eligible voters participated in these elections. Slovakia hit the bottom of all time voting with 13% of voters. Thus, the rest is a huge and fundamental amount of people who are not willing to express their thoughts through voting, a number which cannot be easily ignored.

EU elections

Neither can we avoid the arguments stressing that the European Union per se is becoming a bureaucratic entity with luxurious venues in Strasbourg or Brussels, or the opinions that proclaim a lack of democratic legitimacy in some of the European institutions. There is a need of more accountability towards the people. This election result puts a difficult task ahead for EU’s work for more efficiency and tangible results. There is a big gap created among the information running through the EU institutions’ corridors and the information that is reaching people. This is a dangerous gap, which needs to be closed as a primary condition for better democratic decisions resulting in better democracy.

The Anti-EU parties are doing a great job in misinforming and injecting all kind of all horrible unrealistic scenarios in people’s hearts, despite some of these scenarios being so unrealistic that they cannot graduate from fiction.
Personally I still believe that the EU is the best thing that could have ever happened to this continent, but that doesn’t mean that there is no need for change. There are probably a thousand other lessons that we can conclude from this election, but one thing is for sure, the clear message out of this voting is: Change!

Welcome to the European Parliament Anti-Something Parties!

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Surprise! The extremists have gained territory in most of the European countries.

Despite the fact we are still in post-election heat and there are no comprehensive analyzes on the results, it feels like there is a common perception that the real winners of this European election are the extremists.

“I’m deeply worried”, replied my friend Yacob while I messaged him about the results. Apparently for some people this is a shocking result, but for some it was just expected.

France PM Manuel Valls called it “an earthquake” as the Front National of Marine Le Pen managed to become top favorite of the French voters with 25.41 %. Following in France’s steps, most far-rights parties gained territory in almost every European country. In a ballerina turn the Swedish Democrats went from 0% to the 9.9 % of voters’ choice in these elections, while the Danish People’s party (DFP) went as high as 27%, doubling their seats in the European Parliament from two to four. In Hungary, Jobbik, a party which claims among other things the registration for safety reasons (!) of the Jewish population in the country, has 3 seats and even in Germany the Neo-Nazi National Democratic Party won a seat. The famous oratorical abilities of Nigel Farage have served him well, raising the UK Independence Party (UKIP) up to 27.5% of votes. Other countries could be mentioned as well, such as Greece where the Golden Dawn, the party whose leaders are in and out of jail accused for involvement in criminal activities has won at least 3 seats in the European Parliament.

But not only the far-rights have triumphed in these elections, the far–left had their moments of glory as well. The radical-left Syriza turned out to be the leading force in a Greece exhausted from the economic crises. Not so brilliant, but not a bad turnout either for the Italian party MoVimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) ( which despite disputes most consider to be left) lead by comedian Beppe Grillo gained 21.1% of the voters choice. The same goes for the group sprang from the indignados in Spain, Podemo (“we can”) which won 7.9%, an astonishing result considering that they started their political activity a few months prior to the elections.

The results were interesting because just as Podemos, some other parties, fresh and new in the political atmosphere of their countries, have transferred themselves from the periphery to being the epicenter of politics.
Of course all these parties should be considered case by case and are in no strict way related politically to each other. Nevertheless, they all have something in common: they all are ANTI something.

Overall the European Parliament, the only elected institution of the EU, will have a hundred MEP whom are anti-something. The composition of the anti-something group of parties is made out of the anti-immigrants, anti-EU, anti-Jew, anti-Euro, anti-enlargement, anti-establishment, anti-free movement, anti-austerity measures and probably anti-everything that makes them feel more guilty. Thankfully some of this anti-something parties, are so anti-everything that they will be anti-alliance with similar parties from other countries. This may relieve our fears of possible large extreme-right coalitions able to open the Pandora’s Box.
Don’t get me wrong, personally I believe that some anti’s may not be so bad, but is this really the solution to the problems member-state citizens are facing nowadays? I don’t think so.

Nevertheless all this anti-something MEPs will have their chance to express (while receiving their fat salaries from the same EU institutions that some of them dislike)the exasperation on why things go wrong in their own country. And we all know what is the solution when something goes wrong: blame something/body else! It is easier that way. These anti-something parties go as far as messaging to the egos of human being. It is by the same philosophy that most of these parties have gained votes appealing to people’s sentiments and rancor due to their economic, social, or even personal crisis.

Author: Ermelinda Kanushi
Photo: Alina Zienowitz

Europe – a center of global excellence?

Cecilia Wikström is one of those women whom are rare to find. She is a mother, a priest, a Member of the European parliament, a member of LIBE (Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) and JURI (Committee on Legal Affairs). A European more than a Swedish politician and a person devoting her time and space to a better Europe.

Utblick met her while she was ending an informative tour in several universities regarding the latest Directives’ changes on international human capital coming from third-countries.

The final directive aims to lubricate and give parlour to a rusty bureaucratic system, discouraging young international academics who want to choose EU as their place of education, research, or work. The whole idea is based on the intention to make Europe the magnet for global researchers, academics and other specialized human resources.97-2-a6 In January 2014, the European Parliament voted without hesitation in favor of the final Directive, so now it is the Council that has to take the floor on the matter. Cecilia has become a rapporteur on the case and will negotiate with the Council, having high hopes on the outcomes of these negotiations.

Today there are thousands of students residing outside European borders choosing EU’s universities for their first, second or third cycle of studies. After their studies, some of them prefer to stay and continue their education or if they are lucky enough, find a job within their field of specialization within the EU. The rest go back home, not always willing to do so. Member-states have different practices on the time provided for job search upon graduation or ending of the research program for third-country nationals. As Cecilia mentioned, Germany leads the list by giving more time to these people, while Sweden ranks last. The Directive will enforce a unified stance for member-states, by aiming to expand time of residence for job search for people that have been educated in the EU, to as much as 18 months. Effectively, enabling this human capital to stay and work in the EU. As she mentions in her report “other parts of the world are becoming far more successful in attracting skilled workforce, whilst in the EU, complicated bureaucracy and scepticism towards immigrants scare people away”. This stance is risky to a demographic with an ageing population and constant need for specialized workforce of the European Union.

Cecilia, you are putting forward in the EU supranational institutions, a proposal to amend current rules on conditions of entry and residency of third-world country nationals for the purpose of research, studies, pupil exchange, remunerated and unremunerated training, voluntary service and au pairing. Could you please elaborate, what is this proposal and what does it aim to enforce?
– In a 2011 Commission analysis we have observed that there were weaknesses in the current legislation regarding people that are getting educated in the European Union. Thriving from this prospect, there was some revision done from the Commission to the current Directives in order to be more beneficial for these people. As a rapporteur of the Parliament I have made a proposal to broaden some of the revisions from the Commission. Through this proposal we aim to extend the time limit for job-searching for people educated in EU, to extend the possible part-time job hours (while they study) from ten hours (currently) to 20 hours, to lower the limit for the decision of an residency application to 30 days, inclusion of new categories of peoples into the Directive, provisions for family members of researchers and others relevant issues.

It is hard not to notice that among the other more homogeneous category of researchers, the Directive have given place also to au pairs? Why would you think it is necessary to introduce also this group of people in the directive?
– People are being abused in various EU member-states. In their quest to find out the European reality they fall in traps of different scenarios. So this was the legislative act where we could introduce social safeguards or provisions to protect au-pairs, remunerated or unremunerated trainee and volunteers into this scheme. So we could provide them with some kind of social security, in terms of working hours, free-days etc. We should remember that the au-pairs or volunteers of today could be potential students and citizens of tomorrow. I believe if we treat them nicely, after going back to their home countries in the Philippines or African states, they will remember the good experience they had and will come back whenever they have to pursue their masters, or any studies.

They will become the unofficial ambassadors of Europe as well.
– Exactly.

What do you think about the international student environment today in Europe? Could we say that Europe is attractive for international students, thus becoming the global heart of academia?
– Unfortunately we are not there at this moment. But we need to improve, since we need to attract skilled people to Europe. Currently there is a huge demographic challenge and by 2015 it is predicted that the ratio will be one worker to one retired person. This is not an equation which fits and is far from being a golden ratio. The countries will lose their sustainability. Therefore a greater influx of people is necessary. As we speak Germany has a need of five million skilled professionals such as engineers, nurses, doctors etc. This necessity has arisen in order to protect the quality of the welfare state. We should mention that Germany’s situation could be the tip of an iceberg with other countries to follow.

Since we are here, most of our readers would be interested to know your personal vision on the future of Europe in general and Sweden in particular. What is your vision for a better Europe and Sweden?
– We need to be a centre of excellence in the world. We need to underline the importance of education, research and innovation. We need to see that knowledge is our driving force. With knowledge we can foster growth and prosperity. This will encourage people to set up their business, thus getting rid of, or diminish, unemployment in Europe. For this we need to be a centre of excellence of education in the world. It is important to keep in mind that the European population is only seven percent of the global population, but we act as if we were the majority. We are not. Therefore we need to be more humble, by also attracting the best talented people (innovators, entrepreneurs, etc.) to come here and work with academia, civil society and other actors. Exchange of knowledge is fundamental.

We have acted as if we were the magnet that will attract people from all over the world. We shouldn’t forget that some 130 years ago, people were migrating from Europe to America. At that time 25 percent of the population left Sweden to go to America and it was the same case for the Greeks, Italians, Spanish etc. People from all over Europe fled to escape misery, poverty, prosecutions, to set up for a better life in America. During the 20th century, we have been a centre of attraction for people from around the world, but we are not that attractive any more. People have started to seek their happiness elsewhere, in countries such as USA (still a bit), Canada, and Australia. India and China are very talented when it comes to attracting young, well-educated people. Therefore we need to be more humble and say “please do come, because we need you”. We cannot live any more thinking that people will come just by some natural law. Why would they?!

Especially here in Sweden, where we have the harshest and most unfriendly climate in the world. Moreover we have also have social handicaps. We have a huge bureaucratic system giving the impression that people are not very welcome. We also have xenophobic voices which are becoming more and more vocal today than ever, so why should people bother to come, when it is easier to go, let’s say, to Canada.

 

Text: Ermelinda Kanushi
ermelinda.kanushi [at] utblick.org
Photo: European Parliament