The necessary alternative to the European People’s Party

Álvaro Vasconcelos | Researcher | Centre of 20th Century Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Coimbra, Portugal

New European politics must be sustained by two main pillars: a social pillar – with a New Green Deal capable of stopping global warming and fighting inequalities – and pillar committed to freedom – with the defence of electoral transparency, the rule of law, women and minority rights and hospitality.

The  results of the latest elections for the European Parliament on May 26, 2019 have demonstrated that throughout Europe, despite the unsettling rise of the extreme-right, it remains a minority, and that an alternative able to block it is emerging.  Nonetheless, the results in key countries, such as Great Britain and Italy, and the limited victory of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National in France, is proof enough that the extreme-right still poses a serious threat to democratic governance and to the future of the EU.

In addition, these elections have put a term on the survival of the diarchy that has dominated the European Parliament since its inception – the Christian Democrats in the European People’s Party (EPP), led by the German CDU, and the Social Democrats. Socialists have been held hostage by the CDU’s economic vision of Europe, based on the power of the market, and they may now have been released from this source of political inequality .It had, after all, been the apparent lack of alternatives to the neo-liberal agenda that had allowed the rise of the extreme-right parties and the subsequent decline into political irrelevance of many socialist parties particularly those in France and Germany.

Portugal has been a trailblazer in this respect.  There, progressive forces have been able to break their consensus with the PSD, a member, incidentally of the EPP, a consensus that had lasted for more than 40 years and which had excluded governments outside the political mainstream.  As a result, many people have been convinced that Portugal has been able to develop a real alternative to the neo-liberal austerity agenda of the past.  The result has been that the Portuguese Socialist Party won the election with more than 34 per cent of the vote.

Now the European elections have demonstrated that it is possible to construct a progressive alternative that halts the democratic decline surrounding politics and responds to the anxieties of the middle classes, in view of their economic decline and the loss of their power to influence political options.Such European politics must be sustained by two main pillars: a social pillar – with a New Green Deal capable of stopping global warming and fighting inequalities – and pillar committed to freedom – with the defence of electoral transparency, the rule of law, women and minority rights and hospitality towards immigrants and refugees at its head.  Such a coalition must be built with parties who reject any compromise with ethno-nationalism.

A  coalition must be built with parties who reject any compromise with ethno-nationalism.

These parties must build an alternative to the hegemony of the EPP, not only in the European Parliament but also in the European Council and the Commission. This alternative means, that henceforth the Commission President must be capable of proposing policies corresponding to the ecological and social crises that we face.  That, in turn, implies the defeat of Manfred Weber as the EPP’s candidate for the presidency of the Commission.

The EPP is a party which bears a heavy responsibility for the austerity policies that have, for a very long time, done little to prevent the alliance of its members with the extreme-right and  has tolerated Viktor Órban’s presence in its midst. despite having formally suspended him,

António Costa, in his interview with Le Monde, propposed an alliance to Emmanuel Macron and the liberal group that he has formed to elect the next Commission President. But the necessary policies will not emerge simply from an alliance between Socialists and Liberals –  they have been political forces that lack boldness in the social and ecological policies that they have proposed and they have also been incapable of countering nauseous anti-immigrant rhetoric of the extreme-right.

It is imperative to build a bigger alliance, in which the Greens, who have achieved an excellent result in the elections, occupy a significant place. The Socialists, too, must abandon the idea of having the current Dutch social-democrat vice-President, Frans Timmermans, as the Commission President. They must accept that stronger signs of change are needed and propose a new candidate, one linked to the ecological, social and human rights agenda, which has been endorsed by both the Greens and the anti-nationalist Left. Both socialists and liberals must reject proposals by EPP leaders, for a wider coalition in which they are included. The EPP, in turn, must be told that the time has come to step into opposition, a pro-european opposition no doubt, but an opposition nevertheless.

The EPP, in turn, must be told that the time has come to step into  opposition , a pro-european oppostion no doubt, but an opposition nevertheless.

For the success of this progressive front, the anti-nationalist Left and the Greens must break with their political immaturity and grab this unique opportunity to influence Europe’s future. The Portuguese experience of a parliamentary alliance of socialists with parties to their left, can serve as an inspiration of the path to follow. The Portuguese  Bloco de Esquerda, a member  of the United Left group in the European Parliament, strengthened by its electoral success, could play an interesting role if it knows how to adopt, at an European level, what it has already achieved at the national level. Yet, for that, much political courage will be needed. There, however, the failure of the British Labour leadership which clearly did not know how to halt anti-European nationalism, because of its dubious position over Brexit, might serve as a warning!

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