The Progressive Post

🇮🇹 For a new commitment to the European project and responsibilities


Former Senator of the Italian Republic, Professor at the College of Europe and at the Sapienza University

The rise in support for radical right-wing parties could stall Europe’s progress toward greater integration. It will be up to the democratic forces that still have a clear majority in the European Parliament, and in particular to the social democrats, to defend and relaunch the EU project along the double transition of the Green Deal and Social sustainability.

The European elections were important. Everyone noticed that. But even though the vote was to elect a continental assembly, the election campaign that has just ended was, in fact, the sum of twenty-seven simultaneous but separate national campaigns. So, it was still a second-order European election. In Italy, as in other countries, voters were told that it was important to vote for Europe. However, it has become clear that the fundamental importance of these elections derives from the fact that European competencies must increase and become more decisive due to the changes that are taking place at the world level. And this also impacts the effectiveness of any national policy.

The debates and political proposals were focused on national problems. This has been particularly the case in Italy, but not only. Domestic issues prevailed in all countries, although they played a dominant role in Italy, like amnesties, social cards and judiciary reform. All issues on which European competence is notoriously marginal or non-existent. However, to isolate some strong general themes that emerged during the campaign, one can mention the stagnant economy and reducing inflation, followed by the international conflict and war, and the third most important concern was immigration and asylum seekers. Even concerning these issues, however, it was not explained to citizens how their vote would translate into concrete choices at the European level. 

Turning to the election results, the Social Democrats managed to maintain a significant hold at the level of European Parliament seats. However, there were significant differences between the results of the Social Democratic parties in southern Europe, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal. In these countries, there was both a positive counterbalance to the advance of the right-wing parties and important gains in terms of votes, especially in Italy. In France and Germany, on the other hand, there was a striking retreat in the face of a strong advance by the most extreme and radical right-wing parties. There are, of course, many explanations for such heterogeneous trends. In many cases, they are linked to developments in individual countries. In the case of Italy, the Social Democratic party performed very well due both to strong candidacies of well-known local personalities, mayors and regional council presidents, and to a long campaign conducted in the suburbs and socially deprived areas, in close contact with citizens.

Anyway, there were some surprises. In Italy, first of all, it was the low turnout, which has decided the outcome of these elections. Only 49.7 per cent of eligible voters participated in these elections, compared to 56.1 per cent in the 2019 European elections. This is the first time in the history of the Italian Republic that such a low percentage has been recorded in such an election. The second surprise was the resilience and, in some cases, the advancement of popular centrist parties in many countries. In Germany, Spain, Poland, Greece and some other countries, the parties belonging to the EPP did quite well. Not being in government in many countries helped them, but it is not the only explanation for their good electoral performance.

The third, and the most negative surprise was the collapse of Macron’s party in France. It went far beyond what was predicted by the pre-election polls. It is the real earthquake of this election. So much that the outcome of the French vote by the end of June might matter more for the future of the EU than this European election. The electoral collapse of Macron added to the equally negative result of chancellor Scholz’ SPD in Germany severely weakens the Franco-German engine and with it the chances of strengthening Europe’s strategy of continuing integration. 

In other words, there is a risk that Europe will pursue a status quo policy that is far from sufficient to meet the new challenges, as the completion of economic, financial and social integration, as well as technological change and the green agenda. It will be up to the democratic forces that still have a clear majority in the European Parliament, and in particular to the Social Democratic parties, to defend and relaunch the European integration project along the double transition of the green deal and social sustainability.

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