The Composition of the European Parliament in the 2019-2024 legislature
The results of the most recent European elections show a politicization of the European space that until recently did not exist. That prevents us from calling them second-rate elections. Overall participation has increased by 8% compared to the previous elections, with overall participation reaching 50.63% of the electoral roll, and voting was fragmented. The European People’s Party (EPP) lost 39 seats, although it remains in the lead number of members of parliament, with 182, while the Party of European Socialists lost 31 seats, remaining the second-largest political group. The Liberals are the third-largest group, with 108 seats, and the Greens have 74.
Understanding these results requires an exercise in contextualization because the new political groups accessing Parliament for the first time are positioned on both sides of the majority political spectrum. There has been a slight increase in the parties that seek to erode the ability of the European Union to act on the global stage, removing competencies and returning power to the Member States. The main players in those unique requests are all well-known. They are Italians through the Lega, British, Czech, Hungarian and even Spanish, who under varied, confusing acronyms come together in several political families, such as Identity and Democracy or the European Conservatives and Reformists, whose understanding is difficult to explain and understand.
On the other hand, there is also a federalist current that has openly introduced itself into the European Parliament, as for the first time in Europe a party has run simultaneously in the European elections in eight Member States, with the same name and identical program, with an average age of just 35 years old among its members. They could be considered parties of the digital age that are successful thanks to the advancement of social media among a portion of the population that is primary young and technology native. Volt Europa fits into this type of party. It was established recently by young people from Italy, France and Germany, with over 45,000 members around the European Union, with the clear aim of advancing toward a European Federal State. It is positioned as the great promise for integration in the future, with over 450,000 votes in the most recent elections in the German constituency alone, its sole seat.
It is a clear example, then, that political and civil Europe is undergoing a rebirth; following the Brexit phenomenon, European citizens are beginning to organize in defense of the Union and they are revolt against the division and discord that could lead to a regression in community integration.
The new Parliamentary Chamber resulting from the elections was primarily responsible for validating the election of German Ursula von der Leyen, chosen by the Heads of State and Government in the European Council of July 2, 2019, to succeed Jean Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission. Two weeks later, by a small margin, she received the backing of the European Parliament and became the first woman elected President of the Community Executive for the first time in the history of European integration.
The key challenges of the European Commission (2019-2024)
The key challenges that the European Commission faces over the coming five years have been laid out by experts, but we can highlight those that Ursula von der Leyen herself laid out in her speech before the European Parliament. Her political guidelines highlighted six fundamental reform pillars that we will look into throughout this work.
A European Green Deal
Europe played an essential role in formalizing the objectives at the Paris Climate Conference and in establishing a binding document for the States, where the international community as a whole committed to decreasing their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming. It is also important to consider the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a roadmap emanating from the United Nations that encourages all States to meet a series of goals. These include decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and assuring care for the environment through the implementation of a circular economy that facilitates life on land for future generations.
In a desperate race, where experts warn of the imminent consequences of political inaction, the European Union is determined to put forward the sustainable guidelines, outlining a European Green Deal that is to lead to a completely gas emission-neutral Continent by 2050. A commitment of this kind requires not only an effort by the public authorities, but also be private operators, companies and citizens, who must change their living habits or production methods substantially.
The uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases in recent decades threatens not only the health and viability of the human species, but it also causes serious damage in addition to what has already been caused by plastics or the major fires that destroy hectares of forest without control, emitting tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. At the climate summit in Katowice, Poland, world leaders were not very ambitious in establishing an agenda of commitments to implement the Paris Agreement, even though they were aware of the warnings given by the Scientific Panel of Experts proposed by the United Nations. In fact, the public authorities must implement a circular economy as quickly as possible, where waste is reused to its greatest possible extent.
On the difficult path ahead toward a new model of greater sustainability, the European Commission will meet resistance from Member States when approving the European Green Deal and issuing bonds. The regulatory proposals made during the first 100 days of the term will reach the European Council and Parliament simultaneously, and the representatives of the Member States, the ministers, will likely reduce the ambitiousness of the deal considerably, to avoid economic costs in their respective lands.
In light of that, the States will not help Europe transition to the green economy, especially if citizens do not pressure the national governments, as in the case of countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary or Poland, the put internal consumption and the need to keep growing to continue mining, importing and consuming carbon ahead of more sustainable policies. We cannot ignore in our analysis that without “the convictions and energy of millions of young people who have made themselves heard in our streets and our hearts”, the future Commission President would have been unable to propose in her discourse a priority of these characteristics as the first point in her political guidelines. As long as that pressure persists and is amplified, it will be possible to change the course of growth of Europe, coming ever closer to the emission neutrality and parameters of a circular economy.
An economy that works for people
The second pillar of the Europe Commission is precisely to recover economic growth, but putting people back at the center of her actions. A Europe that is more socially just, that spreads wealth more, enabling prosperity to reach all social classes, would be able to avoid the populist shift in the most critical elections. These may seem like empty words, but Ursula von der Leyen is actually proud of the social market economy of the European Union, which “reduces poverty and inequality, and guarantees the prevalence of social justice and well-being”.
We cannot detract from her words, but we can point out that the grave economic crisis that hit the Continent with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008, led to the loss of millions of jobs, with economic recessions in a large number of Eurozone countries and the bankruptcy of economies that had to be fixed, such as in Greece, Ireland and Portugal; even Spain received a loan.
The real challenge that must be accepted in this pillar is the reform of the Economic and Monetary Union, because it is currently highly imperfect. Under the current treaty design, there is no budget for the countries in the euro area; there is no buffer to fall back on in the case of extreme and urgent need. The States have had to create tools from scratch apart from the original right to resolve the crisis as elements were observed to fail in the legal design of the Union. This is one of the characteristics observed when intergovernmentalism predominates in the European Union, where solutions are designed through improvisation and with the subsequent human, economic and social cost in light of the inexcusable delay by European political leaders in resolving crises.
We have also observed that the States do not offer solidarity in their responses to the international markets, despite sharing a single currency. In the case of debt emission, each responds individually to moneylenders, increasing the risk premium by millions of euros of the budget earmarked for paying interest and ultimately having a negative impact on social spending, increasing inequality and leaving citizens unprotected.
As a result, we have a Banking Union that is unfinished, a practically stagnate economy with very scarce growth, and there is also on the horizon the possible arrival of a global recession due to the trade war currently underway between two superpowers: the United States and China. The World Trade Organization, as the international organization that settles commercial disputes between States, is facing paralysis due to a lack of renewal of its members in the Appellate Body, and the States in the international community distrust each other more and more.
The global trade flows are suffering from the bravado and outbursts of certain world leaders and the danger on some trade routes due to the return of pirate attacks or the irresponsible attitude of some governments. It is possible that the economies of the Eurozone, especially those dedicated to exports, may suffer seriously in the coming years. It is likely, then, that Europe could go back into a recession, which many now believe is a given.
The Commission’s options for action are limited, but it will not miss out on the opportunity, firstly, to support small to medium-sized enterprises to enable them to innovate, helping young people and new technologies to make way in those business and compete against the technology giants. The priority will be to draft a specific strategy for SMEs, while at the same time concluding the Capital Markets Union to enable them to access financing.
The second pillar involves deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, which means completing the banking union, as well as delivering a budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness for the euro area, combined with establishing a European deposit insurance scheme and strengthening the international role of the euro with a figure of international importance, capable of speaking on behalf of the euro area in international forums. These are requests that have been demanded for years, but that the States are reticent to implement due to national opposition to transferring powers to the European Union.
The economic pillar is essential, but it is also true that the European social policy requires sufficiently far-reaching support to return hope to millions of citizens who had lost the reference of a European pillar of social rights following the period of modernization. That is why, although Von der Leyen is a conservative, she is willing to implement traditionally social-democratic measures, guaranteeing a fair minimum wage in the European Union by establishing a social dialog not only with the workers, through trade unions, but also with employers’ representatives. All of this seeks to improve the working conditions and dignity of the workers, that the ILO has been demanding of the States for so long during its 100 years of history.
The European Union should be a reference in this area, especially when the European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme should be established in legislature; that is, Europe-wide unemployment. Likewise, the Commission cannot remain indifferent to growing inequality and increased poverty, which brings with it greater fear of poverty and the poor on the continent, because “it is a collective shame that almost 25 million children under the age of 18 are at risk of poverty and social exclusion.” The next Commission will create a European Child Guarantee that, following the model of the Youth Guarantee designed and planned during the legislature of Jean-Claude Juncker to deal with the millions of unemployed young people and help them access the job market, will provide financing to the States exclusively for the assistance of children, to ensure “that every child in Europe at risk of poverty or social exclusion has access to the most basic of rights like healthcare and education.” Like all projects of the European Commission, its budget will depend on the allocations assigned at the community level, with a final amount that will vary depending on the consensus of the States within the Council, with a greater or lesser amount based on the ambition with which a plan to fight against child poverty is taken on.
Likewise, equality will be one of the central topics of debate and of the political measures adopted by the next European Commission. The Union is aware of the existence of a gap between men and women that is significant enough to warrant undertaking a working agenda that proposes legislation that fights against discrimination and establishes a new European gender strategy to keep women from earning 16% less than their male counterparts, even though they achieve higher qualifications.
Among the star measures for the upcoming legislature, the Executive will propose in the first 100 days of the mandate pay-transparency measures, which will seek gender balance on company boards and will required a gender-equal College of Commissioners, where men do not predominate over women.
Gender equality must not only be present in the purely economic or institutional realm, rather it must also reach the domestic sector. Specifically, a fight will begin against violence in the home because hundreds of women are killed each year in the European Union by their partners. In addition, one of the challenges facing Europe is letting women know that their demands will be heard, so the necessary mechanisms will be articulated to ensure their lives and integrity are respected in any country in the Union.
Photo courtesy of the European Commission, of the future College of Commissioners under the presidency of Ursula von der Leyen.
Equality also includes respect for the “various national and cultural identities that are the patchwork of our identity.” This is an explicit reference to the possible regulatory proposal for safeguarding the rights of minorities, as the European Union currently lacks legal mechanisms for ensuring that the States fully respect diversity within their borders, especially minority groups.
The final pillar of the social policies would focus on fair taxation, one of the areas in which Europe must respond with great pressure given the current circumstances, accused of permissiveness due to maintaining tax havens in different States in the Union. The commitment of the Commission’s president-elect is “that everybody pays their fair share. There can be no exceptions.”
This is a real challenge that will lead to regulation within the Union on international taxes on companies operating in community territory, seeking fair and just tax balance for both bricks-and-mortar and digital businesses. In this sense, the European Union must position itself as a bastion in the fight against tax evasion, fraud in all areas that erode resources in the States for carrying out their social policies. One of the most innovative elements will be the creation of a fair digital tax that is to be in place by the end of 2020, applied to financial transactions in the digital realm.
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