Greetings from Brussels!
It’s the calm after the storm, or is it? Europe went to the polls last week amid media cries and predictions of "popular rebellion" and "extremist surges." Turns out, it wasn’t truly the case. It is a given that the traditional centrist parties took a battering; both the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, known as the S&D group, and the center-right European People's Party, the EPP, lost more than 70 seats between them and their majority in the EU Parliament. That said, the Greens and the Alliance for Liberals & Democrats in Europe, also known as the ALDE, combined — both pro-EU — made significant gains. The Eurosceptics and far-right populists together also improved but fell short of reaching one-third of all MEPs as they had hoped, and markedly so in key member states; factually, the core French and Austrian far-right parties lost seats compared to the last European elections, although they gained in other member states. As predicted, the voting public returned a more fragmented spectrum in the European Parliament, reflecting a growing political polarization. Although having read through numerous commentaries, I think there is a general consensus that the pro-EU political groups will look to keep the populist rise contained.
Interestingly, on the social media side, and according to EuroNews, the populist and far-right wing were far more prevalent and active than the traditional parties — that raises many questions. There was an interesting report by the global civic community and independently funded Avaaz organization that worked in Brussels behind the scenes to expose a massive web of disinformation networks churning out toxic information and distortions across Europe ahead of the elections. From a content moderation perspective, supported by thousands of volunteers and small donors, their efforts in combatting disinformation were impressive. In many respects, from a privacy angle, such initiatives are surely welcome. One would naturally expect that in giving consent for personal data to be processed, one is not intentionally misled or deliberately exposed to disinformation. And therein lies the challenge of modern-day political communications.
In the aftermath of the election, the focus now shifts to establishing a pro-European coalition majority within the Parliament. Why is this all important? The European Parliament must approve the proposed incoming president of the European Commission, as well as their college of commissioners. While the EPP still holds the highest number of seats, it is not necessarily meaningful enough to have their candidate, the German MEP Manfred Weber, confirmed for the top commission job. A pro-European coalition will need to consist of three or four political groups to form an effective majority. It is no secret in Brussels that the other key pro-EU groups — the Socialists & Democrats, the Liberals, and the Greens — have signaled they do not want Weber. Moreover, at the European Council Summit held Tuesday, comprising of the heads of EU member states, the discussions started on who the council will propose as the candidate for the presidency role — which needs to be approved by qualified majority.
There is, however, much more at stake. Following an internal consultation process between Donald Tusk, the sitting president of the European Council and the EU member states, a list of one candidate for each of the top four EU jobs will be drawn up: the presidencies of the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament, as well as the EU’s foreign policy chief. In addition, the presidency of the European Central Bank is also up for grabs but follows a separate procedure meant to guarantee the bank’s independence.
In short, the battle lines are being drawn up, and the "horse trading" between member states will now commence electing a new guard for Europe.
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