Sunday, June 07, 2009

Europe 2009, from the safety of this side of the Atlantic

Being a political junkie I was, of course, glued to the television and computer to follow the results of the European Parliamentary Elections. The European Parliament is one of the inventions of the European Union and so it allows all Europeans a voice in the discussion of issues which effect the Continent as a whole. It's members are elected to a five year term by direct universal sufferage of the various nation states. What makes it interesting, besides the fact that most Europeans have no idea what it does, is the fact that it has two meeting places. As the EU attempts to be the EU, it has to spread out the largess so that no single place has more then its fair share of EU money. It's would be akin to the House of Commons continuing to meet in Ottawa with its committee work being done by some building in Vancouver. With the seat of power being in Winnipeg.
The European Parliament has two meeting places, namely the Louise Weiss building in Strasbourg, France, which serves for twelve four-day plenary sessions per year and is the official seat, and the Espace Léopold (Dutch: Leopoldruimte) complex in Brussels, Belgium, the larger of the two, which serves for committee meetings, political groups and complementary plenary sessions. The cost of having all MEPs and their staff moving several times a year from one place to another is of concern to some. The Secretariat of the European Parliament, the Parliament's administrative body, is based in Luxembourg.

At this point, this famous scene from the BBC series Yes Minister should be used:

Something about 'Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.'.

The good news is the Parliament is gaining more authority and one day may be more of a legislative branch and wrestle control from the bureaucrats who now inhabit Brussels. It may make the EU a truly democratic body with real clout to deal with issues that encompass all of Europe. One desire expressed by many is that there should be transnational candidates, so that a person in the UK could vote for a candidate in France, for example.

What did I learn about the election, much of the story centred on a couple of things, the first being that the Centre-Right, the European People's Party holds the plurality of the seats in the Parliament, much as they did at dissolution. The big losers have been the Party of European Socialists. Although what is interesting is that both the main blocs lost seats at this time. The EPP held onto strength by the victories experienced in France, Italy, Germany, the UK and Poland. But there is some interesting twists to this: in two of those nations, France and Italy, the Socialist opposition to Centre-Right governments, governments that should have suffered at the hands of the voters during the recession, were almost non-existent. That might be a strong phrase, perhaps a better one is, they couldn't get their act together. So the EPP may have won more by default then anything else. In Poland, the EPP is composed of members of the governing party, which has led Poland through the recession with a great deal of success, apparently it's the only nation in which the economy is growing. However, it should be pointed out that only 27% of eligible voters went to the polls, so with its share of the popular vote at 15% it means on 13.5% of the electorate supported the government party. The Conservatives did well in the UK because the Labour Party is having some problems of its own, such as preparingn to sacrifice the Prime Minister on the altar of inefficiency.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe did what Liberals tend to do and that is stay in the middle ground between the left and the right andn stay the course. They'll probably have about 100 seats when all is said and done.

I should point out that in Spain, the governing Socialist party is getting beaten, which is about right for a government in the midst of recession. So things do act out right when there is a strong opposition.

The winners seem to be as follows:

The Greens, which managed to win 50 seats, some have thought this may have been where the left vote went. In France the party picked up a number of seats, a country where the Socialist Opposition simply didn't work.

The No Alliance, which went from 29 seats to 88 seats. This is composed of winning candidates who are not declared as being a part of any bloc or having a bloc. Many in this tend to be the protest parties, those of the fringe and those of the growing far right. It is here the real result of the recession is probably seen. In the UK there is some hand-wringing as the British National Party, an anti-immigration, anti-Europe, pro-white party elected two members to the European Parliament. What does this mean? Is Britian becoming racist, or revealing its racist nature? Is it a protest vote against mainstream politicians who live with their inflated expense accounts?

As always, the Euroskeptic feeling is always present in the UK, with the election of a number of UK Independence Party elected, in fact this party tied Labour with the number of seats. This tends to be the party of Euroskeptics, standing more for Britain then Brussels. Still a great deal of this group is composed of extreme right wing parties, such as those elected in Hungary, Roumania and Bulgaria. One commentator wondered if members of this group would be able to come together as a bloc and have influence on the the debate and composition of various committees. At the same time it was observed while they may have the same views, a lot of them don't like the others, plus most are hiding their anti-racists views, although the Hungarian group is quite open about their hostility to gypsies.

However, all is not lost, the Swedish Pirate Party has won a seat. It polled 7.1% of the popular voted to send one member to Strasbourg. The Pirate Party has been growing in membership and influence ever since the trial of the founders of The Pirate Bay,many believe the trial was a sham and it was rigged against the three by the might of the entertainment industry. This will be on-going. So there is a Pirate in the European Parliament.

While discussion has been made, I think the real impact is the turn-out of the vote, 43% across Europe showed up and voted. This I think is the real story and demonstrates the fact that where there was no real credible opposition, people simply didn't bother. I haven't done the research but I would guess that this percentage is under the national average of the European member nations by about 20% give or take. It is interesting to note, where there was a credible opposition, such as in the UK, Spain and Portugal, the governing party lost big time, where there was not, it was as if the victory was by default. The voters, unless truly motivated did not necessarily vote Green but would be happy to park their vote in the fringe, where a message could be sent to the national party that they better smarten up. If so, then it could be said the European Parliamentary election are the international equivalent to a by-election, where the voters can send a message to the government without really bringing about something bad.

But when all is said and done, the real opposition is found with those who stayed home, either because there was an absence of a credible opposition, or their skepticism to Europe made them conclude it wasn`t worth the effort.

No comments: