Europe’s Odyssey

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MyVote-470x260Zoe Lefkofridi, Max Weber Fellow – Dept. of Social & Political Sciences, has published a new commentary on the European elections

on a pamphlet for the Greek Politics Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association


Please read below the whole text and leave your comments.

Many European Union (EU) citizens (but not more than in the past) abstained from the European Parliament (EP) election – although in varied proportions across member states. In relative terms, Greece’s 42.6 % abstention rate classifies among the “better” performances (e.g. compared with 87 % in Slovakia).

What about citizens’ party choices? Was this a vote against Europe? Was it against national handlings of the crisis? Unlike the past, it is extremely difficult to discern whether support for fringe and/or extreme parties actually expresses opposition to the EU or opposition to domestic governmental policies –as the EU and domestic policy are increasingly interwoven. Governing Greece during the crisis and as well as presiding the EU in 2014 has been the best example for this.

During the crisis the inter-relationship of the supranational and domestic policy was more evident than ever and Eurosceptics did well – but again, in varied degrees across Europe. Crucially, Eurocritics are, and have always been, coming from the two opposite poles of the political spectrum. Although both camps may use populist rhetoric, there are huge ideological differences between the two, which result in very different views about “what is wrong” in the EU.

Within the extreme Left camp, only a few (e.g. the Greek Communist party) advocate in favor of exit from the Union. Radical left messages were more about a different Europe, rather than about demolishing the project. And though the Lista Tsipras failed to pass the threshold in Italy, it was nonetheless an effort to Europeanize national politics and to mobilize citizens across borders.

On the other extreme pole, right-wing nationalists who aim at destroying the EU from within scored well in France, UK, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Hungary and in Greece. It remains to be seen whether non-attached nationalist parties will be able to create an ideologically coherent political group in the elected EP.  Most of them take careful distance from Greek Golden Dawn (GD) which was supported by a respectable 9.4 % of Greek voters; despite GD members’ imprisonment after the murder of anti-fascist musician Fyssas, GD supporters remained loyal and helped it enter the EP .

If anything, the EP election results in Greece and in Europe show that for a big part of European citizens, the status quo is unsustainable. Change is necessary – but in which direction? Though the message for change has been understood, members of the European Council disagree on what to change and how. During the last decade, ever bigger -and increasingly interrelated- obstacles arise in front of them: the financial crisis, declining trust in national and EU institutions ,  the rise of Eurosceptics….It seems that European political elites in government are currently going through an “Odyssey”. Yet, a key problem in this adventurous (and dangerous) collective journey is that they have left the “common quest” [1] – their “Ithaca”- largely under-defined.

[1] “Europe: Our common quest”, official logo of the 2014 Greek presidency.