The rise of populism in Europe has increased with the economic crisis.
Cause and effect - half of the 28 EU members are governed by coalitions, the other half by 7 leftwing governments and 8 on the right. The spirit of coalition will still prevail over the new Parliament. The major democratic parties will have to work together to make it work and also to influence - as the MEPs so desire it - the choices made by the European Council (Heads of State and government) who are to appoint the new President of the European Commission.
Populism is on the rise everywhere, in various shapes, but in all likelihood, for the same reasons. The States of Europe have been disrupted by globalisation which is forcing them to adapt painfully - and the political cost of these changes is high. The financial crisis has rooted out their weaknesses: debt, excessive public spending, uncontrolled social spending. The national elections in the Member States have witnessed the emergence of dissenting political parties both on the left and the right, from the Scandinavian north to the countries in the South and the East. Immigration, unemployment, insecurity are fanning the flames of fear, encouraging withdrawal and even the revival of nationalism and separatism.
On the occasion of the European elections populism merged in with the old, latent, minority euroscepticism as well as with criticism about the Union's efforts during the crisis. This alliance firstly finds its source in national policies in which political alternation should not dispense governments from bringing order back to the national accounts. Whether they are on the left or the right, the majority in power should immediately reduce debts and deficits whatever they previously promised. The European institutions have also been ideal targets for the "austerity policy" and of all of the ills generated by poor national management. However there would be a great deal to say about their management, their decisions and the way they have communicated.
This is the debate that did not take place in Europe and especially in France. In this country the electoral campaign gave rise, as usual, to the expression of fantasies (for or against the euro), to the usual litany of suggestions on how to reform, every single one more intelligent than the last (several tiered Europe, "we need more Europe"), of which the people are tired and in which they no longer believe. It is a French speciality of never discussing Europe - except every five years - to let off steam with arguments that are twenty years too late. MEPs elected on Sunday do not have the power to change the treaties or to re-invent the euro. However many specific, real subjects could have been discussed.
The European Commission must reform, both in the way it is organised and the way it implements its policies. It needs a small Executive capable of decisions, which can prioritize, and interpret the treaties in a more intelligent manner. It has to be able to apply the principle of transparency to issues that are worth their while and to overcome its reticence vis-à-vis the Member States in areas that are within and will be within their competence for a long time to come (foreign policy, defence).
The Council, which represents the States, has to take decisions that are transparent to compensate for the fact that governments do not assume nationally the decisions taken on a European level with their partners.
If it wants to assert its legitimacy the European Parliament has to correct its lack of representativeness so that every European citizen is represented there with the same weight. It has to ensure that the rules, which are already the most complicated and the most cumbersome in the world, do not become heavier - otherwise the crisis will continue. To legislate well implies approving short, concise texts, the principles of which are strong enough for them not to require detailed explanation. Good regulation does not always mean constraint - it starts with understanding and often ends by convincing.
The eurosceptic gauntlet has now been thrown down, a challenge to both the Member States and the European institutions. The former demand the truth from the governments as far as the necessary reforms are concerned and which have to be assumed - even if it means losing power.The latter need a roadmap which sets out priorities, a timetable, for example in terms of fiscal and, why, not social rapprochement. This can only be drafted by the States, if need by just a few - and here we think quite naturally of France and Germany - with an opening for the others to join if they so wish.
This requires frankness, assuming responsability for choices made, first at home, before sharing them with others. This supposes that the European institutions will be more responsive and more political. These are some of the terms of an effective response to the doubt and disaffection of the populations of Europe and possibly part of the answer to true European revival.