The Return of Domestic Politics?
By Brigid Laffan
Director Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Global Governance Programme
22 January 2015
The 2014 EP elections were run under the official slogan, This Time It’s Different and although the elections were different in some significant aspects, they certainly did not transform citizens’ engagement with the EU. The two main changes were first, the identification of a Spitzenkandidaten by the main political families and second, the rise in support for Eurosceptic and EU critical parties. Turnout at 42.54% was the lowest ever recorded since direct elections began in 1979.
Although the Spitzenkandidaten did not attract more citizens to the ballot box, the innovation had a major impact on the selection of the new Commission president. The main political groupings strongly supported the appointment of Jean Claude Juncker, lead candidate for the European Peoples’ Party (EPP), who was endorsed by the European Council, notwithstanding pronounced opposition from David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister. In the EP, Juncker received 423 votes in favour which represented a broad coalition of the centre-left and right. This is a harbinger of the coalition politics likely during the next legislature whereby the presence of a broadly EU supportive ‘grand coalition’ in the Parliament will probably reduce the impact of Eurosceptic parties at EU level and in EU policy making, at least in the short term.
The focus of electoral politics in Europe in 2015 moves back to the domestic. In all, there are eight national elections scheduled this year and there might well have been a ninth if the Swedish Government had not managed to avoid one. These national elections take place against the back-drop of low growth, the threat of deflation and high levels of public and private debt. The Eurozone crisis which abated in 2013-14 may rekindle depending on electoral outcomes and policy responses. Greece is once again the focus of attention because Syriza, committed to renegotiating the terms of the Greek bail-out, is likely to emerge as the largest party on January 25th. The stakes will again be high for both Greece and the other Eurozone states as they grapple with the political fallout of six years of austerity policies.