Tussle in Brussels and Strife in Strausborg

June 4, 2019 Updated: June 4, 2019

One suspects on a purely impressionist basis that not 10 percent of United States citizens could identify the European Union (EU) if asked in a poll.

Even more, I am confident that not 1 percent could identify the European Parliament or any of its elements.

Some Background 

Essentially the EU, starting from modest origins, evolved into a monstrously naïve, monstrously ambitious, and monstrously complex organization that defies ability to describe coherently.

In its own right, drawing on Wikipedia sourcing, the European Parliament is the only parliamentary institution of the EU that is directly elected by EU citizens.  Together with the European Commission and the Council of the European Union (the Council, which should not be confused with the European Council and the non-EU Council of Europe organization), the parliament exercises the tripartite legislative function of the European Union.

The legislature has a voice in some of the biggest issues facing the European Union.  It approves senior officials, it signs off on Europe’s massive budget, and delves into detailed lawmaking as reflected in sweeping data privacy rules instituted last year (affecting operations well beyond European borders).  It has been the source of niggling and immensely irritating rules and regulations that have infuriated member countries and particularly the UK.

While the European Parliament has legislative power as does the Council, it does not formally possess legislative initiative which is the prerogative of the European Commission, as most member states retain such.  The Parliament shares equal legislative and budgetary powers with the Council.  It likewise has equal control over the EU budget.  Finally, the European Commission, the Executive Body of the EU (with executive powers but no legislative ones other than legislative initiatives) is accountable to Parliament.

Got it?

Essentially, the EU structures have evolved without a clear master plan.  Tom Reid of the Washington Post said, “nobody would have deliberately designed a government as complex or redundant as the EU.”

The only conceivable concept that might be imagined would be the Organization of American States seeking to erect a supernational combination of mechanisms to regularize economies, financing, currencies and much of the day-to-day life on the two continents.  Individual capitals would retain authority over national security and most foreign policy issues.

And Now to the European Parliamentary Election

Under this collage, between May 23-26, the 28 EU members held their first election in five years.  Uniquely, parties do not sit as nation states but rather as political groupings.  Thus, you have under various, often vague, nondescriptive identifications:  Conservatives, Socialists, Greens, and assorted less prominent parties, all with individual agendas.

The election is remarkable in its own right—second only to India in the number of eligible citizens.  Moreover, in contrast to steady declines in participation since 1999, participation in this year’s election spiked to almost 51 percent up from 42.6 percent.  It is unclear immediately whether this year’s election indicated new passions, new anxieties, new interest in “Europe,” or all of the foregoing.

The outcome of the fragmented electorate and election provided much ground for alternative explanation.  In the United States, for example, the Wall Street Journal headlined “Pro EU parties hold fragmented majority in European parliament.”

The Washington Post suggested “With biggest turnout in quarter-century, EU elections skew less centrist.”

And the Washington Times declared “Polarized voters pick far right, Green candidates.”

But all of the alternative explanations are correct.

Political Science mavens, however, may seek to dive into the entrails of individual national elections.  Consequently, one might speculate on the meaning of PM Salvini’s (euroskeptic) League Party moving strongly into first place in Italy; or the collapse of the British Conservatives and the surge of the newly created Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party as its de facto alternative focused on getting the UK out of the EU; or  French President Macron finishing only 1 percent behind Le Pen’s anti-Europe party, but with a surge by French Greens.

And What Does It Mean for the United States? 

Essentially very little.  It is not an event of little consequence in far-away lands.  Nor is it an assembly of the “Carjackistan” states of the former Soviet Union.  It is an illustration of the aphorism “all politics are local” and a recognition the United States has the same level of specific concern that Belgians/Italians/Germans/Hungarians, and so on have in the internal politics of Ohio.

To be sure, Washington has and will have problems with European countries and organizations, but these are a function of specific national controversies rather than any issues generated by the European Parliament.

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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