European elections 2019
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Europe: a continent out of breath?

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It is not only in France that the campaign for the European elections is struggling. The situation is the same in the 28 member states of the European Union. In the United Kingdom, the Brexit-friendly part of the electorate has difficulty in admitting that they have to go to the polls, even though the decision to leave the European Union was adopted by referendum three years ago. An analysis of Christian Lequesne for CERI.
 
Ahe turnout at the European elections has never been high (43% in 2009 and in 2014). This situation is unlikely to change much in 2019. Moreover, the idea that European elections would no longer be intermediate national elections because voters would now be voting on European issues is far from self-evident. Domestic political considerations continue to play a crucial role in the European elections.
 
In France, for example, the name of the winner, the LREM list or the Rassemblement National, will be seen as crucial for the second part of Emmanuel Macron's quinquennium and for the 2022 presidential election. The political landscape of Europe has changed a lot in five years. Eurosceptic parties - mainly extreme right-wing - are in power in several countries: Italy, Hungary, Poland, Austria (as part of a coalition). Their election results are comfortable in France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. These parties appeal to the popular electorate, but also to the middle classes by addressing a dual concern: one economic and the other identity-related. The economic argument consists of criticising a Europe that has played the game of competition too much to the detriment of social protection. In continental Europe, far-right Eurosceptic parties all defend the welfare state against the market. The identity variable concerns the rejection of immigration, especially non-European immigration, and cultural otherness, seen as enemies of national identity.
 
Europe's ageing population is thus deeply averse to risk and is still asking for a little more protection. A recent study by consultant McKinsey shows that these trends are similarly observed in the business sector. While a majority of American bosses consider it important to take risks by investing in the future, a majority of European bosses prefer to favour stability of the acquis first.
 
That is why, whatever the results of the European elections, it will be difficult to implement a genuine reform of political Europe. The euro zone, the Schengen system and European defence deserve to be put on a new track, but that is unlikely to happen. As far as the euro zone is concerned, the northern European countries that make up the new Hanseatic League will say that we must first ensure the proper economic convergence of the current euro zone.
For the Schengen Agreement on the free movement of persons, the countries of Central Europe, but also Italy, will say that procedures should not be further Europeanised because immigration requires first and foremost more effective national border controls. They will be followed on this point by many French, Dutch and Germans.
As far as European defence is concerned, Germany, supported by Poland, Denmark and the Baltic States, will argue that the United States should not be put on trial for its disengagement from Europe and that "strategic patience" should be shown towards Donald Trump and NATO.
 
It is not certain that the main threat to political Europe is express disintegration, as it is sometimes read, even by the theorists of European integration. It is rather in the status quo leading to the disintegration. For the time being, the internal market has resisted this movement, as the Brexit negotiations have shown. It is because the British have on several occasions proposed breaches of the unity of the internal market that the other Member States of the Union have tended to defend it all the more. Most often out of interest, as in the case of the Netherlands and Denmark, historically close to the United Kingdom, and sometimes out of principle, as in the case of France, which remains attached to the founding narrative of the four freedoms of movement (goods, persons, services and capital) contained in the original European treaties.
 
The day the internal market loses its unity of operation, the European project will falter. This prospect is by no means to be ruled out if we are to believe the regular attacks on the idea of free trade that runs through European societies and which is carried in particular by the Eurosceptic political parties. Criticism of inequality in Europe is understandable, particularly when one observes the rise in the Gini coefficient in states such as Italy or the United Kingdom, but it is wrong to say that this is due solely to the existence of a barrier-free market. The real reason lies in the political inability of European states to correct market externalities, which is not at all the same thing. 
 
In fact, this debate may seem a little outdated as the world enters a new economic era that will have to combine environmental protection and the emergence of digital technology...
(Source: CERI, 07 May 2019)
 

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