Petros Fassoulas is the Chairman of the European Movement UK.
With friends like this one does not need enemies, many have quipped since Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, announced her wish to campaign in favour of Mr Sarkozy, France’s President, ahead of France’s Presidential elections. Mr Sarkozy accepted and welcomed the offer, even though many argue such a partnership will do him more bad than good, not least because of his advocacy for German-style reforms for France’s economy, reforms that are perceived painful as much as they are Germanic. Few in France are sympathetic to Ms Merkel’s recipe of austerity as a way of curing the EU’s wows.
But economic policy and politics aside, the one aspect of this double act that has raised eyebrows is the fact that the leader of one European nation will be so actively involved in the election campaign of another. It is not of course the first time politicians have lent their support to or expressed a preference for candidates in other countries but to actually campaign in favour of a candidate is indeed fairly ground breaking. But far from causing concern this is something that ought to be welcomed and encouraged across the EU.
For a while now the absence of a pan-European polity has been blamed for the lack of interest in European politics. But moves like the one choreographed by Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy can go a long way to mitigate the above mentioned lack of a pan-European political space and are certainly a step to the right direction.
Such moves demonstrate that European politicians and political parties understand that decisions made on one side of the border have an effect on the other side. As a result they take an active interest in both the personalities and the political parties that run other EU member states because they will have to do business with them on a wide variety of issues. They have a vested interest to ensure that parties from the same political family are in power around the EU.
This alignment of political parties that share a certain political ideology is already happening to an extent. Prime Ministers and Heads of State that belong to the same political family regularly meet ahead of European Council meetings, to exchange views and co-ordinate positions. The economic and fiscal policies put in place as a response to the debt crisis in some eurozone member states is a reflection of the fact that the overwhelming majority of eurozone governments belongs on the centre-right side of the political spectrum. Member state politicians understand that the more governments belong to their political family the easier it is to shape EU policies according to their own political ideology.
This is the beginning of the creation of a pan- European political space. The next step is the really important one though and it can change the landscape of European politics for a long time, as well as the way EU citizens view nation and European politics. Holding national elections in all 27 EU member states on the same day (or at least the same week) will transform the way national and EU politics is conducted.
Such a move will align national political discourse across borders and draw attention to the fact that we are all, one way or the other, grappling for solutions to the same challenges. It will encourage the creation of common political platforms, exchange of ideas and policy proposals, the co-ordination of political manifestos and more cross-border campaigning like the kind we see in the case of France and Germany. Last but not least, it will draw a clear map of the political landscape across the EU, and by Sunday evening we will know how many right-of-centre and left-of-centre parties will be in power and what the political balance in the European Council will be in the 4or5yearsahead.Inawayitwillleadtothe transformation of the European Council and the Council of Ministers to an upper chamber, with a distinctive political identity. Voters will be able to understand the political balance between different parties in the European Council and associate themselves more easily with the policies that will set the EU’s agenda for the duration of the Council’s mandate.
Furthermore, it will add a new dimension to elections for the European Parliament (EP). European parties will be able to influence and draw from the cross- border manifestos of their member parties at the national level. EP elections will turn into mid-term elections, reflecting further the political balance of power in the EU decision-making structures. The two institutions, the EP and the Council, with a clear political and directly democratic mandate will connect voters in all EU member states with the EU’s policies, allowing them to recognise the political identity of the policies that affect them at the EU as well as the national level. EU citizens will be able to affect, every two years, the political balance of power in the EP and the Council, hence having a direct say at the way the EU is run.
The more EU citizens feel involved in the election of those that make policies that affect them the more connected they will feel with the national and EU politicians and institutions that make those decisions on their behalf. Democratic legitimacy at the EU level has come a long way in the past 30 years. It is time we take the next step.
This article was also published in ‘The European’. Thanks to Petros Fassoulas.