A curious repositioning seems to be happening on the European political stage.
The EPP, once the bastion of pro-Europeanism and even federalism in the European Union is now more Eurosceptic than some of its members feel comfortable with. Sure, Viktor Orbán is happy – but how about the moderate, liberal centre-right who joined the EPP and have been loyal members based on their vision for a shared, pro-European future?
Secretary-General of the European Parliament, Klaus Welle, told a crowd on the 24th of January that “we need to stop being afraid to use the F-word … Federalism.”
EPP Group Chairman, Manfred Weber speaking on the same day said that we should think about “changing the unanimity requirement” for the EU treaty change in the future, noting that “no national constitution requires unanimity for constitutional amendment”.
And while three European leaders of the EPP – Mariano Rajoy, Leo Varadkar, and Nicos Anastasiades have been vocally supportive of Transnational lists in the European Parliament, Weber’s Group in the European Parliament has taken the opposite line – voting down the idea in Parliament on Wednesday.
“EPP Group votes down transnational lists” reads the press release. For some unreasonable negativity, you can also watch the Group’s video – where MEPs claim – among other things – that the populists will hijack the transnational lists against the common European good. The video closes with the statement: “Transnational lists are good for populists and extremists but are bad for Europe.”
Is the EPP Group afraid to take on the populists? ALDE certainly isn’t. Neither is the S&D Group, whose press release reads: “The S&D Group was deeply disappointed that the EPP Group teamed up with far-right forces in the Parliament to block the creation of transnational lists of MEPs.”
Even at the EU party headquarters in Rue de Commerce, the reaction to Transnational lists has been negative; but definitely not as firm as the Group. The mood in the EPP Party is that “we’re not ready yet.” But what the hard-line position of the EPP Group has done, is to remove any possibility for the future and to shout out loud that transnational lists will never be a good idea in the view of the EPP.
One long-time EPP supporter commented, “If we can’t expect the EPP to support transnational lists, then who?”
Rejection of transnational lists is a cheap win to appease Eurosceptic sentiment in the capitals. But that, 10 years ago, would have been a sacrifice the EPP would never have made as a concession to populism.
If the EPP party sticks to its centre-right position, but follows the Group in its line, it will be changing its narrative from pro-European, to euro-neutral (and even Eurosceptic where it serves opinion polls). This means it will be moving the fight for voters at the EU elections to the right. A field much more narrow than the EPP’s traditional pool of the pro-European, centrist voters.
A final note. Perhaps the discussion should have been about transnational seats and not lists, if Europe wants to move towards more, rather than less democratic legitimacy.
The EPP Group, however, was determined to say no – instead of considering different possible methods of implementation of the next positive step in the reduction of the democratic deficit and advancement of European integration.