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14 in 2014: European Union parliamentary elections


9. European Union parliamentary elections, May 22-25.European_Union

If for no other reason, the upcoming elections for the European Parliament will be the most important since direct EP elections began in 1979 because under the new Lisbon Treaty, it will be the European Parliament that decides who will become the next chair of the European Commission, the chief executive organ of the European Union (though German chancellor Angela Merkel has argued that the treaty’s language indicates that the Commission appointment need only ‘take into account’ the EP elections).  In any event, it still means that early in 2014, each of the major cross-national party groupings within the European Parliament will designate their nominees to succeed José Manuel Barroso, the former center-right Portuguese prime minister who will step down in November 2014 after a decade heading the Commission.

The eight European Parliament will have 751 members, over 56% of whom will come from just six member-states: Germany (96), France (74), the United Kingdom (73), Italy (73), Spain (54) and Poland (51).  Four states, Estonia, Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus, will elect the minimum number of representatives (six).

Between 1979 and 1999, the Party of European Socialists (PES) and its predecessor was the largest group in the European Parliament.  Its members include the major center-left socialist/social democratic parties of Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, and the labour parties of Ireland, Malta, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Since 1999, however, the European People’s Party (EPP), a group of center-right and Christian democratic parties, have held the largest number of seats.  In the most recent 2009 elections, the EPP won 265 seats to just 183 for the PES.  The EPP’s members include the major Christian democratic parties in Benelux, the Austrian People’s Party, the French UMP, Germany’s Christian Democratic Union Greece’s New Democracy, Hungary’s Fidesz, Ireland’s centrist Fine Gael, Italy’s Forza Italia, Portugal’s Social Democratic Party, Poland’s Civic Platform, Spain’s People’s Party and Sweden’s Moderate Party.

The third-largest group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE), contains includes most of Europe’s liberal parties, notably Belgium’s Open VLD, the Danish Venestre, Luxembourg’s newly elected Liberals, the Dutch VVD, the British Liberal Democrats, and Ireland’s Fianna Fáil.

Other groups include:

  • the European Green Party (which includes essentially all of Europe’s green and ecological parties),
  • the Party of the European Left (whose members include the German Die Linke and Greece’s SYRIZA),
  • the slightly eurosceptic Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (whose members include the Czech Civic Democrats, the UK Conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice Party),
  • the Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy, formed in 2009 as another slightly euroskeptic group (whose members includes Italy’s Northern League, the Danish People’s Party and the Finns Party), and
  • the European Alliance for Freedom, formed in 2010 as a staunchly euroskeptic, far-right group (whose members include the French National Front, the Dutch Party of Freedom, the Flemish Vlaams Belang and Austria’s Freedom Party).

Although the EPP won’t determine its candidate for Commission president until a convention on March 6-7 and ALDE won’t determine its candidate until February 1, the PES has already nominated Martin Schulz, a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and president of the European Parliament since 2012. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, Luxembourg’s Viviane Reding, the Commission’s vice president and current commissioner for justice, former Luxembourgish prime minister and Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker, former Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde of France have all been touted as possible EPP candidates.  ALDE will choose between former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and Finland’s Olli Rehn, currently commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

Herman Van Rompuy, former Belgian prime minister and the first president of the European Council, the council of European heads of state/government, will also step down at the end of 2014 after two 2.5-year terms in that position.   The first EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom, is also likely to step down.

Given the tumult of the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, almost everyone expects that European voters may use the elections as an opportunity to register dissatisfaction with the direction of European governance.  In particular, that could bode well for the stridently leftist MEP candidates — most notably in Greece, where SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) of Alexis Tsipras leads EP polls.  It could also bode well for euroskeptic candidates — most notably in the United Kingdom, where Nigel Farage (pictured above) and his anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is competing for first place with the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in EP polls, and in France, where Marine Le Pen’s nationalist Front National (FN, National Front) leads EP polls.

Photo credit to Lucas Schifes.

Next: Turkey

Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?


It hasn’t been an incredibly distinguished first six months for the European Union’s 28th member.croatia

Croatia, which entered the European Union on July 1, is only the second state to do so from the former Yugoslav union, but it’s already proving to be somewhat of a problem child — as some Europeans feared openly before its accession.

Most of those fears relate to economics and, given the eurozone’s economic crisis over the past four years, you might have thought that Croatia’s growing pains would be economic in nature, but that’s not the case.

Instead, Croatia’s difficulties have more to do with social issues and historical legacies — in its first six months of EU membership, Croatia caused a showdown almost immediately with EU leaders over the potential extradition of Josip Perković, the former Yugoslav-era director of Croatia’s secret police, and it signaled to the world its relative intolerance for LGBT freedom by conducting a referendum that resulted in a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage at a time when much of Europe is embracing equal marriage rights for LGBT individuals.

Those experiences could shape future EU appetite for further expansion in the Balkans, at a time when the European Union has deftly dangled the carrot of EU membership in exchange for a more permanent peace between Serbia and Kosovo, and at a time when EU membership might be the only thing that can save the triple-fractured union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while also integrating smaller countries like Macedonia and Montenegro into the global economy.

The most serious rupture began three days before Croatia even joined the European Union when it passed the ‘Perković law,’ which purported to prevent the extradition of anyone for crimes committed before August 2002.  That caused an almost immediate backlash against Croatia from EU leaders and the other 27 EU member-states, and by September — less than 90 days after Croatia had joined the European Union — EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, was threatening economic sanctions.  Germany, in particular, is interesting in extraditing Perković in relation to his role in the assassination of Croatian defector Stjepan Đureković, who was killed in 1983 in what was then West Germany.

Ironically, it’s the center-left government of Zoran Milanović, who leads the four-party Kukuriku coalition and its largest member, the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP, Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske), that dug in its heels over the Perković law, not the more conservative, nationalist opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Hrvatska demokratska zajednica), which governed Croatia through much of the EU harmonization period, from 2003 through the December 2011 election.  The HDZ, as well as several top government officials opposed the law from the beginning, including Croatia’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister Vesna Pusić, the leader of the second-largest party in the Kukuriku coalition, the Croatian People’s Party/Liberal Democrats (HNS, Hrvatska narodna stranka/liberalni demokrati).

Milanović and the Croatian government eventually backed down in late September by amending the law in a way that complied with EU requirements, but only after Reding instituted formal EU proceedings, needlessly undermining Croatian credibility almost immediately after its EU accession.

Yet almost as soon as the extradition crisis ended, Croatia found itself embroiled in another difficult debate in holding the December 1 constitutional referendum on same-sex marriage.   Continue reading Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?