What future for Social Europe post-elections? Right rhetoric, right initiatives, wrong tools.

26 May 2014, keywords :

The European Policy Centre hosted a post-elections briefing today (26 May), the day after 43.11% of voters turned out to make their choice on candidates for the European Parliament. Who won the election? What can we expect from the European Parliament in terms of policy? Are the elections a historic turning point for Europe? These questions and more were tackled by Fabian Zuleeg, Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Corina Stratulat.

What future for Social Europe post-elections? Right rhetoric, right initiatives, wrong tools.

There is no ignoring the fact that the main parties, the European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats, took a hit in the polls, both reducing the number of seats they set to gain in the Parliament. Ms Stratulat pointed out that the economic crisis has given way to a political crisis, one which Europe cannot ignore and to which the immediate solutions are not clear.

Nonetheless, the EPC do not see a “Eurosceptic Union” developing, as has been so far claimed by some political commentators. Europhiles still run on a majority. In the European Parliament, the EPP and the S&D will have to work together more to find the necessary majority to pass legislation, cooperating more and more in what is called the grand coalition.

The EPC consider the blackmail potential of the various radical parties elected will be limited, noting that they do not hold the balance of power. The extremist parties forming a united front in the Parliament is seen as unlikely given the low cohesion rate among the parties and their generally poor working ethic.

Will there be longer term consequences of the rise of radical parties? Over the long term, Janis Emmanouilidis, Director of Policy at the EPC, thinks that the basis of integration will challenged but that there will be no permanent shift to the right. Integration in a substantial way in the near future is unrealistic, with a focus on consolidating the Europe in place at the moment much more likely.

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The panel were united in their point of view on how social Europe will develop as a result, having a heavy presence in the electoral campaigns of the lead candidates. The credible impact of social policies is limited as resources are needed to fund these policies. In citing the Youth Guarantee as an example, the EPC suggested more symbolic gestures would follow over the next 5 years. Without more money, without more capabilities to act, in other words deeper integration, any substantive change in this area was seen as unlikely.

Finally on the widely speculated issue of the candidates for the post of President of the European Commission, to be put forward by heads of state and to be approved by the EP, the EPC remained cautious. A compromise candidate, other than Jean Claude Juncker for the EPP or Martin Schulz for the S&D is by no means off the table, and for many seems a more likely option at the moment. Heads of state and government will meet at an informal dinner this week to discuss their options.

It will be, for the EPC, a blow to democracy if neither of the lead candidates is chosen. Only time will tell if national governments are willing to take the risk to put forward someone else in Europe’s top job, and how this will be received by the electorate in 5 years’ time.

 Jean Claude JUNCKER