The dominant nucleus of today's EU’s political scene consists of ideologically paradoxical alliances between socialists, liberals, green radicals, more moderate communists and centrist conservatives.
They are united by the federalist perspective of weakened national institutions and adjust their political agendas to the self-created European level of political discourse – a level with no demos.
At this level, the liberals talk about a common market, the rule of law and equal rights, and the centrist conservatives plead that they represent the dominant vision of Europe, which is a symbiosis of regulation and command economy. Representatives of these circles in the European Parliament are building formal alliances and informal agreements to prevent any challenging of the federalist vision of the integration process.
The factions of Euroscepticism
By its very nature, the European Parliament today is much more like a copy of the German political aspirations for parliamentary “big coalitions” than of a true European political agora where the representatives of the European peoples represent and defend the interests of their voters.
Among the many reasons for this status quo are the inherited weaknesses of the European Parliament, such as the lack of a direct link between EP representatives and their voters, the confused nature of EP elections in which national agenda dominates over pan-European issues, the flexible interpretation of European political groups, the MEP’s overlapping loyalty to their own country and the political families in the EP and the limited role of the parliament itself.
The Eurosceptic Club is not less puzzling, since it encompasses all possible critical points of view to the EU.
In this group, extreme right-wing and extreme-left parties have been assembled, striving for the complete destruction of the alliance complete with anti-European rhetoric, as well as those attempting to present an alternative vision of the future of united Europe.
To make the picture even more complicated, some of these parties – such as the Hungarian Fidesz or the Greek Syriza – are part of the pro-federalist political groups while others – like the Polish Law and Justice – share a similar vision with the British Conservatives and constitute a separate political family, and a third group – such as the Italian Northern League (Lega Nord), the French National Rally (Le Pen) and the Dutch Freedom Party – have set up their own radical cluster.
The perception of all these parties through the prism of the common denominator of Euroscepticism leads to the deliberate diminution of the wide palette of alternative visions for the future of the European Union.
The average citizen tends to understand this complex EU political picture as a binary option. On one side are the defenders of the federalist version of a united Europe, and on the other are all these anti-European Huns who want to destroy the seventy-year long successes of peace and prosperity. This simplified positioning leaves no space for the grey shades of complexity, for reflection on the nuances that fuel the Huns’ arguments.
The EU’s present-day problems are not topics of political debate aimed at achieving the most optimal solution but are subjects of ideological rhetoric in which politicians elected in democratic elections at the national level – and who do not profess the vision of a European federation – are treated as external enemies.
The dominating political core in the EP has captured both the role of the ruling party (EPP) and an opposition coalition (S&D) whereas the fractions supporting alternative visions of the integration process are largely excluded from the political dialogue.
The migration crisis has highlighted the real face of the ideologised politics in the EU. The blind, centrally steered and ideologically convenient proposal of the immigrant quota system encompassed the need to resolve the problem and the opportunity to further spill over EU’s competences. At the same time, the contradictory logic of the EU’s migration policy with the migrants needs, the practical security concerns and the inability to distinguish migrants from refugees, were completely ignored for the sake this step forward towards EU federalisation.
At every step, alternative views were ignored, however provocative they were. Instead, Brussels and Berlin chose a moral path and the application of political pressure that required either blind obedience or Eurosceptic tampering.
Instead of allowing for a deeper reflection on the appropriateness of the EU migration legislation, such as the need for a clear distinction between migrants and refugees as well as practical issues related to the law’s sound implementation, the EU followed the ideological – but consistent with the federalist vision of European integration – approach of moral stigmatisation. This resulted in the stance that the countries that were not willing to accept migrants are not displaying solidarity.
The origins of discord
The reasons for this evolution of European politics must be sought in historical and cultural terms. From the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 to today, the EU has not only acquired a legal image but has expanded its competences far beyond the narrow frameworks of economic integration.
The new members who wanted to join were not perceived as individual states, but as clients who, under the influence of allied Europeanisation, would become silent runners-up in the Western way of thinking.
On the one hand, the enlargements gave the EU and the German integration engine legitimacy and new powers and, on the other, justified the introduction of new rules and principles without the necessary public approval.
At the same time, starting from the Constitutional treaty’s rejection in the French and Dutch referendums, every next democratic defeat of the federalist vision of Europe discouraged them from looking for popular support. Today, every alternative perspective referenda is treated in Brussels as the ultimate menace. Instead, the EU has entered into a Peacock dance with the national political elites that are supposed to transmit to the member states’ demoi the Brussels vision of Europe. A vision with no alternative.
In this ideologised vision of integration, even the EU’s basic values have been taken hostage. The delayed acceptance of Bulgaria and Romania was conditioned by the establishment of the
unprecedented Verification and Cooperation Mechanism that was supposed to assist the states in their catching-up with the European standards of judicial independence, fight against corruption and (in the Bulgarian case) organised crime.
After a decade of futile attempts to change anything, particularly in Bulgaria, the last report suddenly acknowledges sufficient progress, despite the fact that Bulgaria has been plummeting in every human rights and rule of law index since 2007.
Simultaneously, the situations in Hungary and Poland have been subjected to an ideological simplification; they are now presented as the new enemies to the integration process, one that completely disregards their internal political peculiarities. At the same time, Brussels spares countries with much worse rule-of-law track records like Bulgaria, Romania or Slovakia that have taken a much more lenient position towards the EU’s federalist future.
A truly inclusive Europe
Conveying attention to a sapped vision of European ideals cannot stave off the major shortcomings of the day-to-day functioning of the EU. The problems of today’s Europe do not come from the nationalist Huns, but from the impossibility of reforming the Union in accordance with the wishes and needs of the individual communities.
Western European nationalists hardly promote a rejection of the rule of law at national level. At the same time, the rule of law is constantly undermined in the new member states, regardless whether they support the federal vision of Europe or not.
The EU itself is also adopting its core values in an instrumental way if it is ready to abolish the Cooperation and Control Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania, and at the same time wants to punish Hungary and Poland.
The problem is not whether there will be nationalists in Europe, but whether the EU citizens will have the feeling of controlling the political process of integration. In truly democratic societies, there is a place for all – nationalists, communists, liberals and pastafarians.
What brings them together is not the vision of Europe, but the possibility, in one way or another, to feel part of the community. To criticize, scream and praise the union, to feel that with the EU they are better off than without it.
Europe needs its member states just as it needs its municipalities and regions. Each of them creates specific communities that unite in one way or another. People who are fond of alternative visions of Europe are not its enemies, but part of Europe’s common heritage.
The simplified picture of the European political debate of pro-Europeans and nationalists blurs the problems, dampens the senses and makes senseless arguments, forcing everyone to hide in the trenches of artificial ideological confrontation.
The focal point is deliberately displaced from how to act together to how to dominate the “others”. In this impoverished kaleidoscope the only option that remains is the dominant vision of a federal United States of Europe. The need for an enemy is a political tactic as old as the world that has been successfully applied in many countries but should be rejected in the democratic ones.
This article is part of the #DemocraCE project series run by Visegrad/Insight and the Res Publica Foundation in cooperation with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as well as editors of leading newspapers across Central Europe. The original was published in Bulgarian on Transmedia.bg and can be found here.