British Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a heavy defeat as his conservative party was beaten into third place in the recent European Parliament elections by the anti-EU UK Independence Party. French President Francois Hollande also suffered a serious blow, ending 11 percentage points behind Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Both leaders reacted to the result, but their reaction was directed at the new president of the European Commission, an institutional issue.
Things were quite different in Greece, despite the fact that New Democracy and PASOK survived largely unscathed as leftist opposition SYRIZA only scored moderate success. The government was thrown into panic, it announced plans for a reshuffle, and the whole administration was paralyzed as the horse-trading began. At the same time, the government confirmed that it is its own worse enemy.
The European election campaign was poor in style as well as content. Also it was largely divorced from European issues. Now that the noise has died down, the only one to have taken a stand on the issue of the Commission president is SYRIZA chief Alexis Tsipras, who announced that he will support Jean-Claude Juncker as he seeks the backing to take the top seat in the European bureaucracy. The parties in the governing coalition kept mum.
The main argument among Euroskeptics has for years been that the Commission and the Brussels bureaucracy aim to impose a Stalinist-style system of governance on the democracies of Europe. They attack them as unaccountable mechanisms that do not enjoy popular legitimacy.
Now that a first, if imperfect, attempt has been made to remedy the EU’s democratic deficit, it has met with reactions from various sides. The British premier deems that putting Juncker at the helm of the Commission is a step toward a federalist Europe. Hollande is seeking the appointment of a Frenchman as the top dog to dampen the influence of Le Pen’s nationalists.
Meanwhile Germany is in a dilemma. The EU is the product of cooperation between France – which has for decades been Europe’s political hegemon – and Germany, the continent’s economic powerhouse. However, France’s decline also undermined its political power as Germany saw its political influence grow.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the rest of Europe need Britain’s political weight. Already, financial reasons are driving Germany toward the East – Russia and China. That could have political implications too. Greece of course has its own problems to deal with, but without a say in European developments, it is bound to remain a provincial misfit.