Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Brief – The kids are federalist now

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Young voters in Western Europe turned out surprisingly in favour of a ‘United States of Europe’ in the European elections, paving the way for passing the torch in the EU’s dusty federalist circles.

At 3am on Monday (10 June), the dregs of an EU election party hosted at a hipster co-working space in Berlin tumbled towards their taxis. The venue ended a historic night for the pan-European federalist party Volt – which grew five-fold across Europe – by kicking them out. 

The EU elections had revealed a small but stunning trend: Youngsters in Western Europe were suddenly throwing in their lot with parties championing a “United States of Europe” – a dusty old concept of transcending Europe’s nations, vehemently opposed by many traditional parties.

In Germany, one million voters made their tick with Volt – giving the party some 2.6% of the vote. Among the 16 to 24 year-olds, the party had 9% of the vote. In the Netherlands, the party scored 5%. 

Around 17% of Austrians in the sub-29 group voted NEOS – a liberal party openly championing an EU superstate, eclipsing their previous v10% total share.

Yes, those are not huge numbers, but the trend is clear, as is the accompanying message: These parties were rewarded for promoting the ‘USE’.

There are various theories on offer to explain this surge, albeit minor, in electoral support.

Some attribute it to disenchanted green voters changing ship for another party with progressive climate policies.

Others point to the fact that their rather positive programme saw election helper schemes, like the German Wahl-O-Mat, frequently point young voters to these parties – often alongside the Greens.

Until comprehensive voter surveys are conducted, any reading into the results is little better than reading tea leaves.

The fact that the high level of electoral support among young voters for parties like Volt and NEOS was not mirrored among older voters suggests that a generational renewal is afoot.

This can be seen in key personnel changes.

One of Europe’s foremost federalist politicians, the former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who dedicated much of his latter-day political career to advancing the federalist cause in the European Parliament, will not return to the hemicycle.

Traditional federalist initiatives like the “Conference on the Future of Europe” were largely ineffectual. Ever since the federalist party structure collapsed, proponents of federalism had little reason for cheer. 

Today, it is the young voters – those who have lived all their lives within the EU at its most integrated – who are opting for these unabashedly federalist parties.

They may not even be proper federalists in the traditional sense – but they support the movement by supporting the transfer of some competences to Brussels, like a health union.

In all, the election results were clearly “fresh wind” for the federalist movement, said the German lead candidate of Volt, Damian Böselager, on Sunday (9 June).

Traditional federalists, who spent decades pursuing cross-party support, are in two minds. While they welcome the fresh wins for federalist parties, they fear the polarisation that the victories of Volt and NEOS may entail on a federalist platform.

Much like in climate action, which may suffer from the electoral ups and downs of the Greens, the thinking goes, the federalisation of Europe could become a political plaything rather than a public good all parties should strive for.

Christian Moos, the secretary-general of the Europa Union Germany (EUD), said “federalism offers a positive vision for the future” –  which contrast sharply with that offered by Germany’s far-right AfD.

That said, he is aware that Volt scored less than 3%, compared to the AfD’s 16%. 

But it may be that some young voters are choosing to believe in a future where Europe picks up the baton from the great men and women that came before and built the EU from the ruins of war.

It is in this context that we should think about the election result, according to Christelle Savall, the president of the Young European Federalists.

“In this decade of enlargement and treaty change, federalism is also back on the agenda,” she explained, adding that the results of 9 June are an “early indicator” of what is to come.

The Roundup

After President Emmanuel Macron shocked France by calling snap elections on Sunday, national left-wing parties called in a joint appeal on Monday (10 June) for “the formation of a new popular front” to change the country’s political course.

The Lisbon government clarified on Tuesday (11 June) that the previous executive’s recommendation to adopt the controversial traffic light food labelling system had been issued without proper consultation with food authorities.

As Cypriot members of the European Parliament, formally dressed in suits, commented on the results of the European Parliament on national TV, a newly-elected parliamentarian,  Fidias Panayiotou, in contrast, wore a t-shirt and shorts and celebrated with a “dab” move, a popular hip-hop dance move and meme.

Moldova’s pro-European president Maia Sandu signed into law on Monday changes to the criminal code expanding provisions on treason denounced by her opponents and Amnesty International.

Katarina Barley, the lead candidate for Germany’s social democrats in the European elections, denied on Monday having immediate ambitions to take on the role of European Parliament president in the second half of its mandate following her party’s disastrous result in Germany.

France’s far-right National Rally was forecast on Monday to win a snap election in France but fall short of an absolute majority in the first opinion poll published after President Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision to dissolve parliament.

Look out for…

  • College of Commissioners on Wednesday.
  • Commissioner Iliana Ivanova meets with leading investors in tech sector on Wednesday.
  • Justice and Home Affairs Council (Home affairs) on Thursday.
  • G7 summit in Italy on Thursday-Saturday.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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