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Two days to change Europe

De cara ás próximas eleccións ao Parlamento europeo, os euroescépticos poden alcanzar un resultado histórico.

Europe’s project is at a crucial moment. Next European elections represent a challenge from different points of views. The economic crisis is still troublesome for the south countries of the Union while not so for the Northern members. The economic crisis has brought "A Dream Crushing Effect" among young and adult Europeans and it has helped to increase the gap between the North and the South Members of the Union. This gap can be easily translated into eurosceptiscism. There is a believe that the European Union project has nothing to offer to the Southern countries besides a huge unemployment rate, more taxes or new bailouts. Therefore, eurosceptiscism has grown because of the insufficient information provided from Brussels about what the European Union is doing for the people and not against the people. In Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party (from now on, UKIP) has been growing in the polls during last year and especially since the next European elections are getting closer.. Their message is clear; they want Britain in Europe but they will not allow any sort of impositions from Brussels like the political or banking union and so on because they do not want to be treated as little England anymore. 

Additionally to the economic crisis and the growing of the eurosceptiscism, Europe will have to deal with further challenges. Some regions such as Catalonia and Scotland want to be part of the European Union project on their own. The Scottish referendum in September 2014 could be a test on how the European institutions are prepared for the accession of new Members from inside the Union. Also, the Catalan peaceful movement towards independence will have to be treated with the same importance than the Scottish one. In Catalonia the Catalan government has recently announced that Catalans will exercise their right to vote in a referendum on November 9th 2014. However, the Spanish government has proclaimed that this referendum will not take place because it can only be called by the central government. Therefore Catalans will expect from Europe some sort of help; at least to vote like in Scotland. But, Is the EU really interested in new born countries within the Union?

On top of this, it is expected from the European Union to play a central role at the international arena in conflicts like Syria. At the same time, they are expected to improve the economic relations within its allies like the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Japan, and so on.

From indifference to eurosceptiscism

It is expected from the next European elections in 2014 that the hemicycle will turn more Eurosceptic than ever before. The faith in the European Union’s project is coming down mainly because of the economic crisis in the South and the common believe that Europe can offer nothing to heal the pain of having a darker future than the one last generation had.

The last two European Parliament elections in 2004 and 2009 have proved how the indifference and the eurosceptiscism have been growing among European citizens. The turnout has dramatically been decreasing since the first elections in 1979 with no clear response from any institution yet.  In 2009 the turnout in the European elections was only the 43% of approximately 500 million people with the right to vote. Besides that fact, the European Institutions were proud announcing that last elections were one of the world biggest elections ever. However, there were eleven countries where the turnout went under 40% and five countries where it was below 30%. On the other hand, the best results were in those countries where the vote is mandatory.

Additionally to the lack of interest among Europeans, the eurosceptiscism has already an important presence in the European Parliament. Last Europeans elections the European Freedom and Democracy political group, headed by the UKIP, won 32 seats. This political group is a coalition among several parties from the East, like Poland or Lithuania; some other Mediterranean countries such as Greece or Italy or even a little representation from France and The Netherlands, the founding fathers of the Union.  Recently, Nigel Farage, the spokesperson of UKIP has stated that his party will cause a political earthquake in the next European elections both in Britain and in Europe because of their determination to leave the Union (Daily Mail, 2013).

Further from some political predictions that may become true, there is a high difference on what Europeans perceive from Europe and what the Union really does. This gap must be healed soon. Some people may argue that the European Union has gone too far from the free market original plan. Some others believe that Europe has brought to the continent peace after centuries of fighting each other and therefore, it is reasonable to increase and improve the political cooperation among Member States in order to avoid any future confrontation. I will not argue about which of these political positions is the best model for Europe but it is important to mention that both have repeatedly made the same mistake; they have forgotten the people.

Similarly, the lack of charismatic leaders may be seen as one of the main reasons of the indifference among Europeans. It is unusual to see the President of the Commission or any of their Commissioners at national State televisions or radio channels explaining what Europe is doing or what is planning to do. None of the European Commissioners have explained the citizens what is happening with their savings, their pensions or even the Welfare State of the Southern countries. Hence, it is not difficult to understand where the indifference is coming from. In fact, only 28% of Europeans believe that their voice really counts at the core of the Union. 

It is reasonably to conclude that this indifference is linked to the lack of information. It is not possible to believe in something if the people do not understand what it really does or how it affects their life. Nevertheless people do care about what the European Union does. Actually, 84% of Europeans declared that they will feel more inclined to vote if they would know the real impact of the European Union in their daily life, and 70% believe that the European Commissioners should be directly chosen through the elections procedure (EurActiv, 2013). The same percentage believes that they will vote if they would have more information about what kind of decisions are taken at the European Parliament.

According to the Eurobarometer report, 60% of Europeans do not trust in the European Union (EurActiv, 2013). The European Union has already shown its weakness at solving one of its major problems; "The Democratic Deficit". It has been proved again as the major problem of the Union and there is no solution envisaged in the near future. It seems that there is no mystery to understand where this gap is coming from. The mystery is to know if this is going to be solved any time soon.

New challenges for Europe

The Euroscepticism and how to deal with it is not the only challenge the European Union has to face the following years after the European elections on May 2014; There are some new issues of equal or even more importance than this. Europe has a historical and political preponderance in world politics and therefore, has always an important role to play within its neighborhood. Besides international issues, regional politics haves always been its main priority. The call for independence in Scotland and Catalonia, the new economic measures to improve people’s lives in the south of the Union and new policy measures to deal with the lack of information, are only some of its continuing challenges.

September 18th 2014. This is the date which has been appointed by Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr. David Cameron and Prime Minister of Scotland, Mr. Alex Salmond to hold a referendum for independence in Scotland. This referendum is not a matter of internal politics within the United Kingdom. There is a real challenge for Europe; a secession process of a Member State in the continent for the first time in Modern History. Thus, will Scotland became a European Member if the ‘Yes’ wins the referendum? This is a tough answer indeed; There is no provision for this matter within the treaties, what basically means that the best option would be a negotiation among the parties; the European Union, Scotland and the United Kingdom. Additionally there is also a call for independence in another region of Europe. In Catalonia the regional government has announced to hold a referendum of independence on November 9th 2014.

The Catalan case is somehow different; the Spanish government has stated that they will not allowed a referendum in Catalonia, and it has preferred to deny the problem while the 52% of Catalan society will vote ‘Yes’ in a hypothetic referendum (CEO, 2013). Despite of the similarities; there is an important difference between these two regions; Eurosceptiscism. Spaniards has been historically pro-Europeans since Spain became member of the European Union in 1986. On the other hand, Britons are not that engaged to the European values as Spaniards are. In fact, Prime Minister David Cameron had promised to hold an in out referendum in 2017 against the political union that he considers a threat for Britain but also because of the ascent of the UKIP. Actually, last polls in the United Kingdom show that 51% of Britons believe that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union (Sky News, 2013). Although, he would have to win British elections in 2015 first.

In addition to the call for independence in different regions of the continent, the European Union should confront other issues related to the quality of democracy and the democratic deficit from the European institutions within its citizens. In fact, the European Parliament is the institution which represents better the interest of 52% of Europeans according to the polls.

This percentage cannot be appreciated as a victory of European institutions against the poor information that Europe provides to its citizens. From May 2014 on, the European Union will have to work harder to improve the quality of European democracy. The European Parliament cannot be just one of the biggest hemicycles in the world. The Parliament should demand more powers to approve new policies that affect all Europeans. In fact, next European elections should be the last ones in which citizens do not directly choose their representatives at the European Commission. The candidates from each political group are selected months before the elections by the Member States, but with the difference that the people vote for the Parliamentary seats but they do not participate in the election of who is going to lead the European Council or the European Commission.

Likewise, the political groups of the Parliament do not always agree on the same sensibilities and interests. Actually, the European coalitions are composed of one or two Europarties and different unaffiliated national parties in order to assure a political group at the Parliament and therefore a full representation and financial subsides. Otherwise they would be relegated to the Non-Inscrits group. European parties should be able to work for the people at everywhere within the Union.

What can Europe do?

It is known than the European project has done a tough work during the past decades and it will continue to be troublesome project in the near future due to the different interests that each state has. However, it has been proved that every single State within the union is interested in one way or another of being part of a strong union.

The European project needs some fresh air. Europe needs new leaders, with more charisma. Leaders who will not be aware of explaining directly to the people what Europe is making to improve their daily live. Leaders capable of giving hope when it is needed. This is why a new and strong leadership is required. Besides, information should begin to flow better to overcome this eurosceptiscism that is present among the people. But first of all, Europeans should be re-socialized into the European Union specific procedure.

Re-socialize does not mean to wash people’s brains to make them feel more Europeans. Re-socialize means to explain the differences between what people used to know about how States work and how the European Union actually works.  It is known that any democratic State is divided in three different branches; legislature, executive and judiciary with a Parliament, a Government itself and a Supreme Court.  But within the European Union is rather different. Europe has seven institutions and each of them represents somehow these three principles.  During the Nobel Prize ceremony the President of the European Union was not there, basically because there is no President. Instead, the Union was represented by the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Parliament. It was not the best image to show to the world. They stated that ‘’Europe is still under construction’’; but it is about time to end this statement.

The European Union has to explain better how it works today. Journals, televisions, radio stations, even the movies should somehow carry the message of why Europe is necessary. The polls show how people would participate more within the Union matters if they would have more information. Information should start to flow constantly to the people.

Next European elections will carry some changes. For the first time the candidates for the European Commission will be known before the Election Day. But, it is not enough. There has to be a challenge for the next leaders of the Union to work towards an improvement of democracy for Europe. In 2019 Europeans should be able to vote directly for the President of the European Commission and for the President of the European Council. Likewise, the E-voting system should be introduced following Estonia, the first European country to introduce it in 2005. This innovation would represent a step forward to improve the right to vote among Europeans and will encourage eurosceptics to vote as some studies have stated (European Parliament, 2013).

Likewise, the Parliament has limited powers and it cannot legislate properly as it should be. Increasing the power of the Parliament implies the reduction of Member States preeminence which means, a loss of their own sovereignty.If President David Cameron wins British elections in 2015 he has promised to hold a referendum in 2017 to make Britons decide about their relation with the European Union. This tough situation should be treated carefully.  It seems impossible these days to find a solution to improve the power of most representative institutions for Europeans without restricting their sovereignty.

Additionally, the Scottish government has announced their will to stay inside the Union if the ‘Yes’ wins the upcoming referendum. It would be a significant fact if Scotland remains inside the Union and the United Kingdom goes away. Some alternatives exist for regions to keep their full membership in the European Union. The Internal Enlargement has been suggested by the Centre Maurits Coppieters (CMC, 2013) and it states that any region inside a Member State can hold their membership automatically in case of independence. There is no international law neither a single European treaty which forbid secession. Thus, it is legal according to them. Therefore, as there is no provision within the International Law which forbids the right of secession, all the parts will have to negotiate.

‘’Europe is not perfect’’ President Barroso said during the last State of the Union speech (European Commission, 2013); He was indeed right. Since the project of the European Union is unique in the world, this can be seen both as an advantage and a disadvantage. Consequently, innovations in democracy should be made in order to satisfy this exceptional project and its people.

 

Reference List

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Chorley, Matt (2013) Daily Mail. 'UKIP will cause an earthquake in British politics': Nigel Farage predicts party will win EU elections before gaining first ever MPs. Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2426619/UKIP-cause-earthquake-British-politics-Nigel-Farage-predicts-party-win-EU-elections-gaining-MPs.html [Accessed 16 October 2013]

Cralg, John (2013) Sky News. Sky News Poll Reveals Huge Divide On Europe. Available from: http://news.sky.com/story/1099455/sky-news-poll-reveals-huge-divide-on-europe [Accessed 17 October 2013]

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European Commission (2013). Standard Eurobarometer 79, Spring 2013. Public Opinion in the European Union. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb79/eb79_first_en.pdf [Accessed 15 October 2013]

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European Parliament (2013). Can e-voting increase electoral participation? Available from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20110321STO15986&format=XML&language=EN [Accessed 18 December 2013]

European Parliament (2013). Turnout at the European Elections (1979-2009). Available from: http://www.infoelectoral.mir.es/min/busquedaAvanzadaAction.html [Accessed 15 October 2013]

Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió (CEO). Baròmetre d'Opinió Política (BOP). 3a onada 2013 - REO 733. Available from: http://www.ceo.gencat.cat/ceop/AppJava/pages/estudis/categories/fitxaEstudi.html?colId=4688&lastTitle=Bar%F2metre+d%27Opini%F3+Pol%EDtica+%28BOP%29.+3a+onada+2013  [Accessed 18 December 2013]

 

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