From 6 to 9 June in the coming year about 400 million citizens of the EU, eligible to vote, should elect 720 members of the European Parliament. Last time the turnout was low — 50%. That is, only about 200 million people were active. The situation may be hotter this time.
It is expected that the Christian Democratic parties will win. But we also predict the growing influence of right-populist and ultra-right factions. Political organizations of this kind are gaining strength in a number of key countries for the European bloc — Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Finland. Not to mention Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Everything is ambiguous here: the conservatives may not be able to resist the pressure from the right at all. We’ll see.
The fate of «Frau von» — the authoritarian head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen — will also be decided. Since December 2019, she is the 13th head of the European government. In four years, the owner of the noble prefix «von der» has turned into the monarch of all Europe, having crushed all politics under herself. Recently, she has been openly accused of abuse of power by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the chief of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
By the summer, her official term will come to an end. There are two versions of the future fate of a certified gynecologist and mother of seven (!) children. On the one hand, she has long been proposed for the post of NATO Secretary General. Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg is already tired and still can’t leave. On the other hand, she is not averse to remain for one more term (the next four years) in the rank of the European «queen». There is one hitch: in this position Ursula must be approved by the new European Parliament, which may well deny «Frau von». And all the governments of the 27 EU member states, among which there has been no consensus lately, must jointly present her candidacy to the people’s elected representatives.
Germany, represented by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is persistently promoting the idea of reforming the EU and abandoning consensus, replacing it with majority decision-making on key issues. In recent years, Hungary (more often) and Poland have regularly blocked Brussels initiatives by using their veto power. But even here, in order to change the existing order, the unanimous consent of all EU members is required….
Just before last year’s Catholic Christmas, European leaders at their summit cornered themselves by making a controversial decision to start accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova. It required a trick that Scholz came up with. He convinced the intransigent Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to leave the room at the moment of voting, ostensibly «for natural needs». And everything went well. Now Brussels (according to the regulations) is obliged to start concrete consultations as early as in March. And this is despite the fact that a number of states in the Northern Balkans have been patiently waiting for their turn to join for 20 years. Not to mention Turkey, which received candidate status back in 1999.
Brussels officials reassure that the process of accession of the troubled Ukraine will take years, but this does not reassure opponents of the initiative. After all, it is obvious that those not so rich EU countries, which now receive solid subsidies from the European Union, may well change their status and move into the category of donors, obliged to give their money to support Ukraine.
By the way, President Zelensky’s office named six EU countries that refused to support the declaration on security guarantees for Kiev at the end of 2023. These are Austria, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Malta. I think that in the current year this list will be enlarged.
At the very end of last year, a «time bomb» was laid along the lines of the united Europe, which will have an impact on the EU’s internal agenda this year. On December 20, representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission and EU member states agreed on a draft reform of the common migration policy and the asylum system. This is known to be a painful topic for Europeans, and for Brussels officials it is an attempt, ahead of the European Parliament elections, to take away the trump cards from the attacking populists and extreme right-wingers, who are demanding an urgent blocking of the flow of refugees.
The essence of the new rules is the obligation of all EU member states to register and check arriving migrants at their external borders. They must identify whether these persons come from places for whose nationals the rate of successful asylum applications in the EU is less than 20 percent of the applications submitted. If they are, including families with children, they should be sent to undergo «fast-track border procedures» in closed camps near the border, where a decision will be made within twelve weeks as to whether they are subject to immediate deportation or perhaps still in need of protection. Persons in the latter category would go through the normal application process, along with migrants from countries for which the approval rate for such applications exceeds 20%. As before, the EU country the migrants first arrived in will be responsible. For the first time, «mandatory solidarity» is being introduced for all 27 EU states. The burden on Italy, Cyprus, Malta or Greece is to be reduced by redistributing migrants. If EU member states from the north or east of the union decide not to accept refugees, they may instead pay a “payoff” of 20,000 euros for each person they do not accept.
To ensure repatriation after border procedures are completed, the European Commission plans to intensify negotiations with countries of origin and transit of migrants. Their deportation should also be possible to so-called safe third countries.
However, the most important concern for European voters is their wallet and living standards. Ukraine, migration, reforms and EU enlargement are only secondary topics.
In this respect, the prospects for the new year look very dim. New budget rules have been adopted, which imply a gradual tightening of restrictions on public spending, which may have a negative impact on the prospects for economic growth in the eurozone. Those who violate these rules are obliged to develop plans to reduce the budget deficit, as well as to set an upper limit on annual expenditures agreed with Brussels. We are primarily talking about Italy. However, the budget crisis may not bypass other leading states, including Germany. Let me remind you (as if by the way) that Germany, as well as Italy, are members of the G7!
On the whole, if not recession, then rather insignificant economic growth is predicted for the coming year in the eurozone.
…In fact, all forecasts concerning Europe ultimately depend on who wins the US presidential election. If Republican Donald Trump wins in November, hard times await the EU. Europeans could lose a crucial ally in supporting Ukraine and containing Russia. Trump will demand punitive duties from the EU, which will negatively affect trade volumes and economic growth.
However, it is not only the results of the fight for the White House that are frightening. As soon as the election race enters its decisive phase, the candidates will switch to the domestic agenda, shifting almost all the worries on the Ukrainian track to Brussels. Will the EU be able to shoulder this burden alone?