2024: The year of the "Great Reset"?

The apparent serenity of the European elections and the storm after

European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a pre-election rally at the Ancient Theatre of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 02 June 2024.
© EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV   |   European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a pre-election rally at the Ancient Theatre of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 02 June 2024.

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The elections for the European Parliament due on June 6-9 are more important than othes, because the geopolitical map of the world is changing, against the background of the war in Ukraine. Although "the center hold on" - in other words, the European Commission, the most important political institution in Brussels, will probably result from the political consensus between the European People's Party (EPP), ALDE/Renew and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – Europe’s turn to the right is indisputable. The vote, that will take place on June 9 in Romania, will confirm and quantify this trend.

The apparent serenity: reconfirming von der Leyen and her EPP-Renew-S&D support

A new EPP-ALDE-S&D coalition would give the European Union stability and continuity, especially if Ursula von der Leyen were reconfirmed as President of the European Commission. This is likely to happen, if only because most Commission Presidents have survived two terms, and the other names circulating in the media and the Eurobubble, such as Mario Draghi or Thierry Breton, seem more like political hypotheses than real dangers for the current Commission President.

It is not the case of von der Leyen's team though. The experience of previous terms proves that they will change by 50-80% simply because they are proposed by the member states, and usually the local political configuration changes from one European term to the next, so it generates another commissioner name. This is a tactic move, related to the local power struggle, which has often been criticized in Brussels as lacking a European vision, because commissioners with good results acquire, on a second term, the so-called "seniority", which would be for them – and implicitly for the country they represent – an entitlement for a more important portfolio or a position of vice president. In other words, member states have good reasons to promote their well-performing commissioners for more terms, but this happens quite rarely.

In the new Commission, the Croatian Dubravka Šuica, the Greek Margaritis Schinas, the Luxembourgish Nicolas Schmit, the Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis and the French Thierry Breton, among others, are rated as highly likely to stay. For the Romanian Adina Vălean, the likelihood is rather moderate.

In the new European Parliament, the three centrist parties will probably have enough votes to appoint Ursula von der Leyen as president of the Commission. It would be 361 options out of a total of 720 MEPs that will make up the next European Parliament. Forecasts regarding the legislative future are as follows:

 

European Party

Forecast of the European Council on Foreign Relations

“Survey of Surveys”.  Politico

EPP

173

172

S&D

131

143

ALDE/RENEW

86

75

ECR

85

75

ID

98

68

The Greens

61

41

Party of the European Left

44

31

unaffiliated

42

56

 

We can see that in both versions the EPP, S&D and Renew gather 390 votes, even if from different numbers for the three parties. It looks like a comfortable majority for a new "centrist" government. But it is not.

What lies beneath the apparent calm: a significant growth of the radical right

First of all, the "comfortable majority" represents a decrease of the one in the legislature still in force, where the three parties under discussion have, in total, 417 members - out of only 705, because the current Parliament is a bit smaller than the future one. The trend is older, but this time, the winners are the radical right-wing groups ECR and ID, who have 69 and 49 seats respectively in the outgoing legislature, significantly less than the forecasts above. Even if the future centrist majority seems to have no problem validating the new Commission, Brussels sources draw attention to the volatility of the vote in the European Parliament on other specific issues. The best-known example is ALDE/Renew, which has made voting with the left on some issues and with the right on others a public strategy. Evidently, the future Commission will have greater difficulties in implementing its very diverse political initiatives across such a political spectrum.

Predictably, with ECR and ID going up, the European Parliament's zero-sum game causes the Greens and the Radical Left to lose seats. But beyond that, political commentators have detected a right-wing "virtual" or "hidden” majority composed of the EPP, ECR and ID. This is just a working hypothesis, with little chance of becoming reality,  first of all because the EPP has permanently distanced itself from the radical right-wing groups lately, but also because the above estimates do not total 361 members in the three groups. However, the hypothesis is not devoid of content, because the EPP is in a position both enviable and despicable. On the one hand, it can capitalize on the right-leaning European electorate by clearly taking on issues related to the defense capacity of the European Union and migration control, and demarcating itself as clearly as possible from the radicals in the ECR and ID, as it did in the electoral manifesto launched at the congress in Bucharest. But, on the other hand, it shall inevitably collaborate with them in different contexts.

The von der Leyen-Meloni 'Idyll': A Case Study on what’s to come

Such a context is the political romance between Ursula von der Leyen and the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, which became the subject of ironies in Brussels. Winner of the 2022 elections with the populist Fratelli d'Italia party, Giorgia Meloni is a key figure in European politics, thanks to her legitimacy in her home country and her weight in the EU game. The Fratelli d'Italia's rise to power raised concerns because of the group's Mussolinian DNA, inherited, along with the red-white-green flame symbol, from the National Alliance, successor to the Italian Social Movement, founded in 1946 by former "post-fascist" (in Italian terms) followers of Mussolini. Giorgia Meloni seems determined to dismantle such concerns, through a political repositioning closer to the center, which gives her potential access to the decision-making mechanisms of the European power - a political stance somewhat opposed to the positioning of the AUR party in Romania, for example, because in Romania’s case, this party disavows en bloc the other parties and has managed to hamper its own access to decision-making.

The rapprochement between the president of the European Commission and the Italian prime minister has materialized in a series of visits by the former to Italy and joint trips to countries such as Tunisia or Ukraine. Ursula von der Leyen's Socialist and Renew allies have reacted critically to these moves towards the radical right, however, with the Socialists even threatening to withdraw their support for von der Leyen if she collaborated with the ECR.

Of course, the whole saga is not over and will only end when the new European Parliament is elected and, as potential head of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen will clearly define her goals which could involve the Fratelli d'Italia or the ECR.

The radical right is not only radical, but also volatile

The so-called von der Leyen-Meloni romance is just one example of the volatile political ballet that is being performed in European politics these days. Germany's AfD, one of Europe's well-known far-right parties, was expelled from the ID parliamentary group following a suicidal statement by the prominent MEP Maximilian Krah, who said - in response to a question from the Italian daily "La Repubblica” – that he did not believe that all SS members were automatically criminals. The statement came after a parliamentary aide of Krah, Jian Guo, had been arrested following a German and Belgian police raid on the European Parliament on charges of spying for China.

Paradoxically, it seems that the "suicide" was a success after all, because even though he suspended himself from the campaign, Krah remains AfD's candidate for the European Parliament. It is too late for the lists to be changed.

Such colorful histories began to unfold right before the eyes of the people of Brussels. Another example is the presence of MEP Tom Vandendriessche (Vlaams Belang, Flemish secessionist party) at the farmers' protest that took place on June 4 in Brussels. This time, the city didn't lock down and no Molotov cocktails were thrown, as the turnout was far below expectations, but the rhetoric remained incendiary: "Farmers are just the first victims of climate change madness. Then they’ll come after us, after all of us", said Vandendriessche.

It is interesting that this kind of protest is especially supported by the radical right, through unions like the German LSV, close to the AfD. They are not attended by the largest farmers' organizations, which may schedule other protests.

Through a ricochet effect, all this turmoil of the radical right can affect the center as well, as what’s going to happen in the Netherlands suggests. Winners of the elections, the right-wing radicals of Geert Wilders' PPV could not form a government on their own, so they announced they would collaborate with Mark Rutte's liberal (center-right) VVD. From the point of view of Renew, the group of which the VVD is a part, this is "unacceptable". Therefore, Valérie Hayer, the leader of Renew, has announced that this group will vote to exclude the VVD from the next parliamentary group.

Far right? Radical right? Conservatism? What is it really about?

The ideological differences between ECR and ID, the two radical right-wing European groups, are harder to articulate. ECR is the acronym for European Conservatives and Reformists and ID is short for Identity and Democracy. ECR could be considered closer to the center, among other things by its pro-Atlantic stand and declared "Eurorealism", which does not challenge the essence of the European Union, but only certain aspects of it. ID, on the other hand, has radical positions against the Union, and on March 1, 2022, it distanced itself from the European Parliament resolution that condemns the Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Beyond these, however, things are easier to understand if we look at the dominant parties of the two groups - Fratelli d'Italia, the Law and Justice Party (the losers of the Polish elections) and Vox (Sweden), in the case of the ECR, and the National Rally (France – Le Pen), Vlaams Belang (Belgium), Freedom Party (FPÖ - Austria) or League (of Mario Salvini, Italy). In addition, the official date of birth of the ECR is 10 years earlier than that of the ID (2009 vs. 2019).

The confusion is heightened by the uncertain fate of well-known parties, such as Viktor Orbán's Fidesz, currently unaffiliated after being kicked out from the European People's Party group in 2021, or Italy's 5 Stelle, also unaffiliated. And this leads us to the unknowns of the delegation of the Romanian MEPs.

The Romanian radical right is, for now, nowhere. Uncertainties also related to the affiliation of the PSD-PNL and United Right alliances to the European families

The "radical" parties, if we can call them that, in Romania, i.e. AUR and SOS, also have an uncertain destination - it is not known whether they will remain unaffiliated or if they will be able to affiliate with ECR or, on the contrary, ID. For them, inclusion in such a group – no matter how radioactive, in the sense of European politics - would be an educative achievement, which could also lead them to something other than populism, in other words strategies with consequences or participation in the process of decision-making. The subsequent affiliation of the candidates from the list of Dreapta Unită (the United Right) is also uncertain, although Eugen Tomac, in case of victory, could move towards the People’s Party and the USR candidates to Renew. However, unlike AUR and SOS, Dreapta Unită has bargaining power and could negotiate better positions in the Parliament hierarchy (committees and groups), depending on the group to which it is affiliated.

The MEPs elected from the joint PNL-PSD list could also go to two different groups, with the destination EPP in the case of the former and S&D, in the case of the latter. All in all, if the forecasts are true, Romania will have 9 (27%) radical right-wing parliamentarians (AUR + SOS) and 24 (73%) "centrists" from EPP, S&D and Renew. The percentages are more or less the same as the share of ECR, ID and some right-wing non-affiliates in the forecasts for the entire European Parliament. Again, Romania does not appear to be a more extremist country than the rest of Europe. But the problem is what is happening to Europe, in general.

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Iulian Comănescu

Iulian Comănescu




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