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Myths of the European elections - unmasked

May 26, 2019
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The campaigns for the EU parliamentary elections degenerate into political folklore. This hides the fact that the EU Parliament has no democratically legitimated constitutional structure comparable to a state. Accordingly, the EU elections will (and can) change little to the current situation.By Ulrike Reisner, freelance political analyst, lecturer & journalist, based in Vienna, Austria16788228062_0499071ef0_z.jpgPhoto: Flickr.com, Diamond GeezerBetween May 23th and 26th, 2019, around 427 million citizens in 28 countries are called upon to vote for a new EU Parliament.Which topics dominate the current debates? What were the arguments used by the electoral politicians in the run-up to the election to the EU Parliament? What were the leading media positions?Unfortunately, it has to be stated that - even with the greatest effort and massive use of financial resources - the outcome is not very substantial. One example: The European Broadcasting Authority had gathered questions for a confrontation between the top candidates of the six largest political groups - on the assumption that they would meet the interests and needs of the total of around 427 million voters in the 28 member states. These topics included unemployment and climate change as well as migration or Europe's role in the world. For 90 minutes, the six candidates fought for the favour of the viewers, closely monitored by three journalists who gave them a maximum of 60 seconds per answer. The result, as in many debates in this EU election campaign, was not very convincing, though.Much more revealing, however, is a critical, unadorned look at the individual EU Member States, their current problems and challenges and the associated expectations with regard to the EU elections.In Sweden, for example, the conservatives’ approach is becoming more and more popular: Sweden does stand by the European Union, but is cautious about its further development. The competences, especially of the Commission, should not be extended and further cuts in national sovereignty should be treated with utmost caution.In Poland, on the other hand, the elections to the EU Parliament are being labelled as a test run for the elections to the Polish Parliament in autumn - and not least for this reason as elections of destiny.In France, President Macron is probably fighting less for a leadership role in Europe than for his political survival at home, which is not guaranteed against the background of the Yellow West protests and his zigzag course in various fields of policy.Germany can still rely on good economic data and may derive from this a claim to leadership in the economic and monetary union. But there is a growing lack of political ideas and concepts to make the European Union the kind of political player some EU elites imagine it to be.These same elites are largely blind and deaf to the Eastern and South-Eastern European member states and their growing criticism of a common political future. Here, emotional and irrational arguments continue to dominate the debates. Politicians and the media warn unanimously of a shift to the right, seeking corresponding enemy images. If it is not the Hungarian Prime Minister, then it is a former politician of the UK Independence Party who is running his own party for the EU elections.Myths and make-believe democracyIn all the countless debates with their more or less substantial contributions, however, one topic is deliberately avoided: The European Union is not a state, does not function like a state and must therefore not be perceived as a state. In the sense of international law, it lacks state territory, state people and distinct state authority .The Member States have their territories, the territorial scope of the Union – in contrast – is determined by the Treaties. The Member States have national peoples, the Treaties speak of peoples of Europe (TEU) and European peoples (TFEU). And even if the EU exercises public authority, it does not have distinct state authority: its competences have been and are still transferred by the Member States. A state can be active in all areas that are open to public authority. A state therefore does not have to justify its competence. In the EU, on the other hand, the principle of limited individual authorisation applies.However, since it is precisely in the current electoral debates that the institutions of the EU and their functioning are measured by state standards, it is important to unmask these myths and to point out those areas where citizens are made believe that there is room to manoeuvre where there is actually not.The Myth of ParliamentOne core question is as simple as this: In which way can the EU Parliament influence the political direction of the EU? The EU Parliament is basically not a parliament but an assembly. The EU Parliament has no constitutional power.The right of initiative lies with the Commission, the actual legislative work with COREPER (Comité des représentants permanents), the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union. The powers and functions of the EU Parliament consist in its participating in the legislative procedure, controlling the budget and the executive as well as in executing general supervision.Therefore, the citizen who takes part in the elections to the EU Parliament has no political influence whatsoever on the distribution of political power within the EU - on the one hand because there is no European government; and on the other hand because the EU Parliament does not have the authority to elect or remove the holders of political power within the EU. In theory, the EU Parliament can pass a vote of no-confidence against the Commission. In practice, this has never happened so far and would also only affect the representatives of the Commission but not the institution and its powers themselves.However, the primary democratic right of citizens to participate in political power is to be able to vote out their governments. This is not guaranteed in the EU.Furthermore, the EU Parliament is not able to guarantee EU citizens their freedoms because it does not have the appropriate legal and control mechanisms. Even human rights are not guaranteed to citizens by the EU Parliament, especially as the EU is still not a member of the ECHR.What, then, is to motivate a European citizen to take part in the election, if the EU Parliament, no matter which political composition, cannot guarantee his democratic rights?Myth Elections of Political DirectionOne of the strongest narratives in the EU election campaigns is that of elections of political direction, being talked up as a vote for or against Europe, the latter being associated with the narrative of the shift to the right.The core question is as simple as this: Why will the elections to the EU Parliament never be elections of political direction? There is an obvious, but not quite simple answer to this. The sovereign of the European Union is not the sum of all its citizens but the states are the fathers of the Treaties. The EU Parliament is not a constitutional body of the EU, because the Parliament is not equipped with the kompetenz-kompetenz and does not have the sole legal competence.Therefore, the average educated EU citizen and voter knows that - no matter what the outcome of the election - this will not be crucial for the fundamental development of the EU. The EU Parliament is no more and no less than one of several internationally registered EU institutions. The political forces active in the EU Parliament do not have nearly the political competence and power to make fundamental decisions for the EU and its further development.The New Founding MythA myth that persists and is inspired again is the European Idea. Based on various elements of European cultural and intellectual history, the European Idea refers to a political and social construct which is often referred to as a Western community of values.This myth is currently taking on a new form by being transformed into a kind of new founding myth. In public debates, it is repeatedly conjured up that the EU is a peace project, founded on the urgent need of the Member States to overcome the hostilities of the two European wars of the 20th century.It explains to European citizens that this very peace project is now under threat, not least by massive external influence, with Russia being named as the main political actor and China as the main economic actor.It has to be kept in mind that the demand for the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community was less driven by economic interests but rather by the historical demand of the Allies - above all France - to bring Germany's war-important industry under permanent control.It is also deliberately concealed that it was primarily economic interests that led to the EU's eastward enlargement: some of the states were looking for new sales markets, others for jobs and more social prosperity. To label this fact as a peace project can at best be explained by the truism that peoples who trade are less inclined to wage war against each other than those who do not trade with each other.ResumeeThe most striking aspect of the EU election campaign is the lack of political ideas and concepts. Instead, the political elites are concerned with safeguarding their spheres of influence - whether at the EU or at national levels.Those who demand a clear commitment to the EU and its further development demand a reduction of the political participation of the actual political sovereign, namely member states' peoples, without even thinking of establishing a new form of separation of powers within the EU. They thus demand the strengthening of a centralist executive power without democratic control and participation of EU citizens.The politically opposite direction, on the other hand, does not concern the fundamental development of the EU but a withdrawal of central executive political power by the actual sovereign, namely the member states as the fathers of the treaties.The campaigns for the EU parliamentary elections hence degenerate into political folklore. The EU is thus losing further important years for the far-reaching reform it urgently needs in the face of global challenges.Post ScriptumA final thought on the myth of external influence: In the electoral debate, the assertion that the EU is currently at risk from outside as a result of interference by third countries seems paradoxical because one of the most significant features of the EU is the institutional heteronomy of organisations such as NATO or the successor organisations to the Marshall Plan, from whose involvement the EU has not yet emerged.In Austria, on the other hand, an unprecedented external interference in the Second Republic took place in the middle of May: the scandal video about the former Vice-Chancellor of the Republic, published by two major German media, may well be a testimony to his political naiveté and personal corruptness. Much more worrying, however, is the fact that means like this can bring down governments and provoke new elections.
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