European Hustle

European elections: Can the same old EPP really open a new chapter for Europe?

With the prophetic words of “opening a new chapter for Europe”, the EPP builds its manifesto around four catchphrases. Whether political soundness and coherence follow those, is more debatable. Spitzenkandidat for the party Manfred Weber, has little chance of actually following Jean-Claude Juncker next year, as the national heads of government favour Michel Barnier or Margrethe Vestager, calling into question the entire “Spitzenkandidaten-procedure” affair. However, as the president of the largest political family in Europe, Weber’s bid, and the programme on which it builds can be dominant in deciding the future of the Union for the next five years.

The party manifesto update for the coming elections does not paint a pretty picture of the current state of the EU. From climate change, to demographic pressure in Africa “spurring uncontrolled migration”, and terrorist threats. On the political stage, the EPP sees little alternative to itself, with “populists and demagogues” on its right, and narrow-mindedness on the left and with the greens.

With the dreadful scene set, one would be anxious to find out what light the good christian values of the party will shed on our future. Will Weber be our new saviour?

“A Europe that protects its citizens” – until the water rises

It is no secret that the EPP is a fan of strong external borders. In true EPP fashion, it sees them as a necessary precondition for Schengen freedoms. In the same breath, the Christian-Democrats also want to make sure that those ideals are upheld, more specifically through humanitarian aid; on our own terms, of course. The EU external border ought to become subject to direct right of intervention by Frontex. With the controversial EU-Turkey refugee agreement presented as a “successful example”, the EPP claims this shows the way forward in dealing with North African states. One could wonder which authoritarian regime our tax money should go to first. In line with this the EPP shows its heart with a “Marshall Plan for Africa”. Alas, a more long-term view to the migration issue.

With regards to European Defence, the picture is clearer: a closer integration of the forces, without creating a single European army. The EPP sees this as a way to cut costs, and wants to create real defence capacity by 2030. In line with this, drones are to be made in the EU. Drones, you ask? Yes, drones.

In line with pumping buzzwords, a European Cyber Brigade is to curb new warfare, which actually seems like an efficient investment scale-wise, but begs several questions regarding competences in the new lasagna of defence politics.

Regarding the social model, an amp up of the European Fund for Transition budget, ought to prepare for large-scale restructuring in the face of automation. But more on the new economy later.

Lastly, climate change is crammed into this chapter, with a positive outlook on the ordeal. The EPP builds on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), although only a minority of emissions actually falls under that. No mention of expanding the scheme further than industries and the energy sector, no looking at emissions created through consumption, or even a plan on how to keep businesses in the Union when they roll out higher prices under the scheme. Looking at transportation, for some reason the only other industry mentioned, the party trusts that technological solutions will do the trick. The little climate change section even ends within one third of the paragraph and is followed by a discussion of trans-boundary gas solutions, which has nothing to do with the issue directly.

A broader outlook on migration would recognise the influence of droughts and dictators. An honest view of climate change would recognise the scale of the issue, and maybe look into adaptation strategies as well as the EPP’s feeble mitigation plan.

“A Europe that preserves our way of life” – a preservation which has passed its sell-by date

The relevance of the following title is difficult to determine. The EPP does a good job of appealing to the nostalgic, while staying vague about the future (and current) socio-cultural challenges. Traditions and Christian belief are not shied away from when completing the list containing freedom, democracy and gender-equality. Anti-Semitism is named specifically as a challenge. Although an important issue, it is dwarfed by questions regarding Islam. Either stay broad, or call out each religion specifically, but the EPP only selects a few key aspects, not daring to burn its hands on the majority of religious issues.

A family policy that could be found in a conservative pamphlet forty years ago, aims to solve modern ailments, including loneliness and an ageing population. The EPP strongly holds on to its cultural beliefs and tries to blame modern issues on the deterioration of them. A move away from christian values seems to be the cause of pretty much all of today’s socio-cultural issues.

“A Europe that delivers on opportunities” – while ignoring the challenges

The EPP strongly believes in the social market economy, and once more proclaims that SMEs as the backbone of Europe’s economy. With the Juncker Plan having indirectly created around 750 000 jobs, the EPP decided to leap into the future with a promised 5 million jobs just around the corner. It strongly believes in new Free Trade Agreements maintaining the standards set by the EU, and painting China as a competitor rather than a partner. Industry is said to thrive under this, with high environmental and qualitative standards. However, how that is to compete with Asian economies, or hold up in the discrepancy between states in these proposed FTAs is left to the imagination.

Regionalism, as a stronghold in EPP ideology, is given a new, modern outlook as it is linked to digital literacy and “access to supercomputers”, further proving the EPP’s ignorance of current technology (as evidenced by their new Copyright directive). Meanwhile, the rural regions are to thrive under a new CAP, adapted to the 21st century. This is to help us face “globalism, food security, and climate change”. However, these last two are not linked, and there is no mention of how to deal with these coming food shortages due to climate change. Nor on how exactly we are to protect the EU against “lesser quality” foreign imports. GGO’s are not mentioned, nor is the growing issue around neonics. Globalism is also not the same as globalisation, unless the EPP is actually advocating for fighting the very ideology that postulates less borders and more cooperation globally, on which the European Union is based.

In this changing landscape, robotics and A.I. are “embraced”, as they hold a lot of potential. The loss of jobs that these technologies (among other more important ones) will entail are not mentioned. It is clear as day, that the EPP would rather check off some hot topics, than actually think about the results of these new challenges to the European (rural) economy.

Apparently the competitive advantage the EU has against the US and China, are political stability, the social market economy, and common values. Last time we checked, Xi Jinping’s regime has been quite a stable and growing economical force, with a far more futuristic outlook and plan than the EPP’s plan.

“A Europe that empowers its citizens” – Insitutionalism that makes sense

The EPP is a proponent of solving the democratic deficit in the EU. Its bid to close the gap between the EP and national and regional parliaments seems like an effective solution to an ailment that has long been agonising the EU. At the same time, the EPP wants to further integrate and increase democratic efficiency by giving the EP a greater role, qualified majority voting in foreign affairs, and reducing red tape and bureaucracy.

According to this programme, the EPP clearly wants to create a transnational democracy and a truly empowered parliament. However, previous voting records in the European Parliament paint a different picture. Why did the EPP defeat the motion for the introduction of transnational lists in February of 2018? According to their website they voted against them because “they are neither European nor democratic but rather a centralist and elitist artificial construct.” Of course this fits with the EPP’s view that the national level takes precedence over the European level, but what does this say of their committment to strengthening European democracy and the role of the European Parliament?

Conclusion

The EPP remains the same as before. It is the power house of the European Union that controls most decisions made across the majority of institutions and will continue to do so, as long as citizens support them. However, the EPP does face a crisis with the potential imminent departure of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. The EPP is too power-hungry and internally divided to ever kick out Fidesz, but Orban may just decide to leave on his own if he feels that Salvini’s new faction is a better fit for him and his. This would cost the EPP at least 12 if not 15 seats and weaken the faction considerably. But perhaps this would also allow for some much needed fresh air to breeze through the newly constituted European Parliament and initiate some movement on key issues that Europe is facing today.

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