The analysis of the European election results is just beginning. But a sound assessment of the state of European democracy needs to be made, and an audacious approach needs to be adopted to respond politically to the explosive cocktail of varied resentments which have been expressed.
The progress of the radical and populist right which had been predicted came to pass. The dangerous combination of the rise of social and cultural insecurity, pessimism linked to economic decline, and anger provoked by the rise of inequalities, poverty and unemployment, has fuelled a rejection of the larger traditional parties. Neither the radical left nor the Greens have really been able to gain from this, despite an overall result that was rather encouraging for Greens.
The populists have harvested the protest of those who feel that politicians are no longer capable of offering them genuine hope for the future. The trouble is that they have turned towards those who are least likely to actually respond constructively to their anger and fears.
We are a long way from reaching the end of the process of understanding and analysing the rise of populism. But in the European context, we must first underline the devastating impact that neo-liberalism, and the principle of competition of all against all, has had not only on the European project, but also on European democracy. Hasn’t the time come to recognise the devastating impact of the interventions of the Troika which have always been concerned first and foremost with the banks and financial groups, to the detriment of the citizens?
Those voting for anti-European parties believe that Europe cannot provide for their security and welfare. For them, the welfare state is first and foremost a nation state. The nation state is, to their minds, the only community capable of providing long-term reassurance. This retreat into national identity is dangerous, but what are Europe and its advocates really doing to respond to the anxieties brought about by globalisation, the economic crisis, and neo-liberal policies? Are we determined to fight against their hold over European policies, and to achieve this are we truly determined to start to think of the welfare state beyond the nation state? Are we also ready to reinvent the welfare state in the direction of sustainability? If we do not ask these questions, and if we are not in a position to provide concrete answers to them, all the democratic reforms on the functioning of the EU or on a reinforcement of democracy from the bottom up can only exacerbate the new forms of nationalism.
The question which then arises is whether there will be political majorities in the European Parliament that would be capable of taking initiatives which are genuinely innovative and audacious. Our observations of recent years give us little cause for optimism.
If the Greens want to play a key role in this process, they also must be ready to coalesce far beyond the borders of their parties, with all those who want a more democratic and ecological Europe. The Greens are not the only ones who believe that too much pragmatism, too much real-politik, and especially too much real-politik without a European vision, without audacity and without leadership are slowly but surely suffocating democracy. If there is a conclusion to be drawn from the era of the Barrosos and Van Rompuys, it is this. The time has come to be daring when it comes to the debates and conflicts on the different visions of the future of Europeans.
This requires more than ever that we avoid limiting these debates to the Brussels sphere, to specialists of “European affairs”. We must bring the debate on Europe much further into our own national spheres. But we will only succeed if we build a Europe that defends a common European interest, that promotes solidarity, and that takes the risk of democratic innovation which allows all citizens the opportunity to express themselves and to act for a common future.