The post-election crisis and the ground of our hope
The alienation expressed in the election results poses a formidable challenge for the next European Parliament, a crisis of legitimacy.
The outcome of the European election has been widely and strangely described by both winners and losers as ‘an earthquake’. The image evokes a dramatic change in the landscape, and suggests that the election result may trigger panic. However, an earthquake is not a triumph but a catastrophe.
These elections were dominated by fear and narrowed perception. In the UK, in the immediate election periods, the press scarcely debated the merits and failings of the EU itself, focusing instead on the view of Europe taken by a single party. The UK Independence Party (UKIP), not the EU, was the story.
More narrowly still: UKIPs election manifesto as a whole went almost unexamined, amidst the focus on just three issues: its hostility to the EU - far more intense than mere ‘Euroscepticism’; its xenophobia (UKIP proposes that ‘proof of private health insurance must be a precondition for immigrants and tourists to enter the UK’ - a policy which would swiftly wreck the British tourist industry); and its gut rejection of the mainstream British political establishment. Its declaration begins, ‘As crisis follows crisis, our politicians do nothing in the face of dangers rearing up all around us’.
In France too, the disarray of the established parties left the rhetoric and programme of the Front National (FN) effectively unchallenged. Marine Le Pen echoed the demand to be ‘protected from globalisation’ and lamented the ‘rule’ of unelected technocrats: as if civil servants ought to be elected, and as if the European Commission reigned supreme among the EU institutions, with power to approve the measures it is formally required to propose. This ‘rule’ is fictitious. The Commission can insist only on measures the states themselves have already agreed to.
Evidently the alienation expressed in the election results poses a formidable challenge for the next European Parliament, a crisis of legitimacy. It must also cope with the presence of a range of parties committed not to reforming the EU but to disrupting or even destroying it.
Yet a politics defined by negativity cannot build a future. As Christian commentators on politics, we bring a contrasting perspective. In faith, we proclaim the unity of our daily ‘life unto death’ with the ‘eternal life’ that transcends this first life, while imbuing it with its full significance. Our foundational political commitment is to seek and sustain human dignity and the common good.
To that end, we consistently stress the indispensable role of politics and of politicians. That is not to ignore their failings or their partial impotence at times of crisis. We recognise the force of money in politics, so that - for example - corporate lobbying threatens the independence of parliamentarians, and the desperate search for ‘growth’ can disable any serious attempt to moderate intolerable economic inequalities. We even observe the limits of formal democracy itself, in which elected representatives gain a short-term mandate to face massive global challenges - challenges requiring decisions that would erode their popular support and endanger their re-election.
A ‘return to national sovereignty’ is futile. National governments cannot meet alone the challenges facing us, such as ‘protecting us against globalisation’. The failings noted above are replicated at national level, which explains the alienation itself and why the EU was founded in the first place. Even ‘alliances’ are inadequate: an alliance is a provisional structure of collaboration proposed on the primary basis of national self-interest. Only an enhanced sense of political community, finding expression at regional, national and transnational level - in which we accept our solidarity with and responsibility for each other - can offer hope for the future.
Frank Turner SJ