This post is part of a series on the issues discussed at the ECFR Annual Council Meeting in Rome (12-13 June). You can find more content and audio from the council meeting here.
The financial crisis resulted in a fragmented, unequal and unpopular Europe, and - as demonstrated by the recent European elections - a significant number of people have turned their back on the EU. However, with the rise in eurosceptic populism and the lack of growth and jobs, the EU now more than ever requires active engagement from its citizens and political courage from its policymakers. The question now is not whether Europe should move ahead, but how.
In the interest of avoiding frantic activism, the participants of this panel agreed that a substantive analysis of the reasons for the mixed results is needed. They identified three major clusters:
1) Turnout: The overall turnout of 43.1 percent was a source of relief across party lines, as it shows that the downward trend of previous European elections could be stopped. However, some MEPs in the room admitted to feeling depressed by the low turnout in eastern parts of the EU. In fact, the six lowest turnouts were from Central and Eastern European member states including Poland (22.7 percent) where the general support for the EU remains remarkably high (72 percent according to a 2014 PewCenter survey. “Eurosclerosis” is no longer just a Western European Western phenomenon!
2) The North/South divide: It is usual for European election campaigns to differ from country to country. In this election, however, the campaigns seemed to split on geographical lines, specifically the North/South divide. For example, the Social Democrats in Spain campaigned on issues of European democracy and social justice while the German parties focused more on the ongoing need for structural reforms and budget consolidation.
3) How to deal with the rise of Eurosceptic parties: Most speakers pointed out that the Eurosceptic insurgency is not only a European but a national challenge. In many cases, the success of Anti-European forces was rooted in the failure of national governments to deliver, and the results in France were the most prominent example of this. Many European citizens were attracted by the way the Eurosceptic camp addressed their concerns, regardless of whether their policies would actually address their problems. The ‘More Europe’-camp missed the opportunity to set an agenda for Europe, but the aftermath of the European elections might be a make-or-break moment to make the case for Europe. The role of Europe on the international stage will be important in in this debate, as Europe needs an active role on the global stage or it risks becoming a victim of globalization. Or as one speaker put it: We need a “European Deal"!
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