Election of EU Commission President: "Procedure is Pseudo-Democratic"
Editor's note: Below is a translation of GMF Senior Fellow and Director of Europe Program Jan Techau's interview with Jonathan Fisch of Swiss Radio und Fernsehen (SRF). Techau discusses populism in Europe following the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Fisch: In the European elections, right-wing populists gained ground in major countries. In France, Marine le Pen claimed victory, while in Italy Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini’s Lega party also won. Overall, however, one might say that the gains of EU critics were less substantial than previously predicted. Jonathan Fisch spoke on the topic with the German political scientist Jan Techau.
Techau: What we have been seeing for some years now is that—for the first time—the populist, nationalist right in Europe has managed to formulate a transnational narrative that overcomes the former boundaries. It used to be national and fragmented whereas now the right has a common message: “The European ruling elites are distant. They do not care about us, ordinary citizens. They sell to us some globalist identities, faraway schemes from Brussels,” and so on and so forth. For the first time, the right has an overarching narrative that holds everything together. This must be viewed as an accomplishment.
Fisch: So, there are transnational similarities between right-wing populist parties in terms of content, but there also are many differences. These parties disagree on climate issues, social policy, the stance towards Russia, for example. Will that change now?
Techau: Probably not. We have already seen these disagreements play out during the European elections and immediately afterward. The old divides remain, but these are not cleavages that affect only right-wing populist parties. Rather, these divides are reflective of the traditional differences between individual countries: relations with Russia, for example, or the completely different positions on the treatment of migrants. The Italian right-wing populists want other European counties to take in more migrants, whereas their fellow populists elsewhere do not want more burden sharing.
Also, when it comes to the euro problem or where economic issues are concerned there are considerable ideological cleavages, and the question remains whether the narrative I have just described can cover them up. My view is that, when it comes legislation and the resolution of specific policy issues, these divides are, in the final analysis, too significant. And I would presume that the formation of a unified bloc of right-ring populists—something that is being currently discussed—might remain an illusion.
Fisch: Do these disagreements mean that right-wing populists will be unable to come together and block important initiatives at the European level?
Techau: Obstruction is always something other than constructive policymaking. Obstruction does not require much because all they have to do is talk through and then clamp down. What is much more challenging, and important, is being able to set the agenda, to form policy, to introduce constructive solutions. That is what matters most in the European Parliament and in the Brussels institutional interplay. Right-wing populists will probably fail in these areas or, at least, they will face more considerable difficulties than they are now cheerfully anticipating.
Fisch: And what does the strength of right-wing parties mean for their pro-European counterparts?
Techau: It presents new difficulties. The old majority formed by the Christian democrats, the classical center-right, and the social democrats, the classical center-left, has been lost. These two blocs can no longer govern alone, and they will now have to depend on either the liberals or the greens. The liberals will have more seats in the new parliament than the greens. So, we will be facing an even larger coalition of parties, one that has to be constructed in a way that allows it to push legislation though the parliament. And we know that the larger the coalition, the more difficult it is to keep it together, and this requires the inclusion of moderate voices.
First, they will need to negotiate a firm compromise among themselves. However, the seeds of discord are already there and finding a bargain will be challenging. In other words, all the legislation and legal matters in Brussels will become even more intricate, and compromises even more challenging. Some have always accused Brussels of being an inscrutable machine, and this accusation will probably be even harder to deflect. This is because the workings of the compromise apparatus will be even more complicated.
Fisch: This was political scientist Jan Techau, who is Director of the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.