It is widely acknowledged that Europe is facing a number of formidable, sometimes unprecedented challenges. Rising inequality, terrorism, environmental concerns, crime, Brexit, fake news and immigration are some of the more pressing ones, according to both ordinary Europeans and political institutions. We can safely add the threat of radical, nationalist movements wishing to do away with most European liberal values.
European Union is a remarkable, visionary project in many ways but there is one major omission. Although envisaged, Europeans do not do politics together in a meaningful manner. There is no European polity to speak of. For the majority of the EU electorate politics is, somewhat bizarrely given so many global challenges, still largely confined to national borders. When Europeans vote in European elections, it is “on different dates, according to different electoral laws, for candidates selected by national — rather than European — political parties and on the basis of domestic agendas”. (A. Alemanno, Politico) This clearly has to change if Europe is to successfully respond to the abovementioned challenges and grow deeper and better.
Although there are ‘European parties’ operating in the EU parliament, they are not genuinely transnational. They are political groups whose interests are mostly dictated by domestic priorities of their members and the willingness to compromise in Europe. They are funded by the EU that wants them to work towards “forming European political awareness and expressing the will of citizens of the Union” (European Council), but being what they are is precisely why they are not delivering. More than anything, they are largely stable but occasionally expendable political alliances, and as such limited at best.
In order to have a genuine pan-European political debate, we need transnational parties and movements. This is basic logic but something which has not made a great deal of impact on European politics, unfortunately. Those of us who believe in European project and liberal values must be greatly alarmed to see far-right populists better at organising across national borders and ‘using Europe to destroy Europe’ (Euronews). If we want to counter the nationalist onslaught, we must act sooner rather than later.
There are some, as yet minor, signs of hope. There is at least awareness that something needs to change. This awareness may not necessarily permeate all corners of progressive political spectrum, but it is there.
Importantly, there are budding pan-European political parties and movements. In time, they could become the desirable future of European politics, or at the very least supplement the existing political order. Not all of them are progressive or EU-friendly, but parties like VOLT and DiEM25 could provide the spark for nascent pan-European politics that looks for European solutions.
European parties, transnational lists and movements are almost certainly here to stay. We should support and welcome them. The first opportunity to do so in a very meaningful way will be the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019. The new parliament is likely to be quite different whatever the outcome, but making it more progressive would be a great step forward.