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The angry voters of Europe

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The angry voters of Europe

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Anger at the ballot box. It’s unseated 11 European leaders since the financial crisis began. That’s in part because mainstream parties on the right and left have lost so much ground to populist extremes.
In France, the far right was the spoiler for Nicolas Sarkozy, driving him further to the right in the second round of his failed re-election bid.
Greece has had trouble creating a new government because of polarisation, in a struggle over austerity measures imposed by the EU, with its membership in the Euro zone at stake.
Serbia elected a nationalist eurosceptic president who refuses to recognise an independent Kosovo.
Irish voters, however, did approve the EU’s belt-tightening fiscal treaty by 60 percent, a relief to supporters who feared the worst.
How can mainstream parties counter the populist tendencies that seduce so many voters today? Or is Europe headed for more divisive politics, at a time when consensus is desperately needed?

Chris Burns, euronews:
Wired into this edition of The Network is, from Athens, Aristides Hatzis, Professor of Legal Theory at the University of Athens.

From Paris, Philippe Moreau-Defarges, Political Scientist at the French Institute of
International Relations (IFRI).

And from the European Parliament in Brussels,
Marco Incerti, Research Fellow and Head of Communications at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Let’s start with a question for all of you, starting with Aristides. How much of a threat do populist parties pose in Europe because of this voter anger? Are we headed for a divided, ungovernable Europe, and what could that mean for the euro, and Europe itself?

Aristides Hatzis:
Actually, this is going to be a very dangerous path. I’m really afraid that this is the beginning of a slippery slope to authoritarianism, to protectionism and certainly to more economic inefficiency.

Chris Burns:
Philippe, what is your opinion on that? Are we heading down a slippery slope?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges:
Yes. Because the major issue in the European Union today is young people unemployment. If the European Union is unable to settle that issue – to find a way out – it’s clear that many young people will vote for populist parties. It’s why it’s a real problem.

Chris Burns:
Marco, it sounds pretty hopeless doesn’t it? Or does it?

Marco Incerti:
It does. It makes it very difficult to form governments at the national level at a time when governments and leadership are badly needed. But also this undermines the mutual confidence between member states and the citizens of those member states, which is one of the pillars on which European integration rests.

Chris Burns:
And this comes at a really crucial moment when many say we need more European integration but so many voters are opting for these euro-sceptic parties. How to persuade voters of what needs to be done. Aristides.

Aristides Hatzis:
People in Europe are in a state of shock for the reasons we mentioned, but also they are in a state – especially in Greece – a state of denial. There are two solutions for me. The first is the institutional one. You should have institutional structures that ensure democracy and also prosperity. But also we should emphasise, and we should give whatever we can to education, to better education.

Chris Burns:
OK. Philippe, how concerned are you that populist parties will gain in other member states? Does this mean the EU is highly unlikely to get a new governing treaty, which it might need if it wants to tighten up on integrating its governing aspect?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges:
Yes, you’re right. It’s very difficult. Probably today we need a new ‘Churchill’, you know somebody able to convince populations that we need this too today. What we can say, if the European Union is destroyed there is no future for Europe.

Chris Burns:
Marco, how concerned are you that populist parties will gain in other countries within Europe, and how much is that threatening this process of trying to find a solution for the financial crisis?

Marco Incerti:
I am very concerned. It doesn’t have to do only with the financial crisis. You talk about immigration in Greece or France and that is a burning issue. I think it’s also unfortunately a ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem, that is, one of the solutions would be to deliver more at the European level but to do that you need to take those bold institutional steps that the leaders have been unable to provide so far.

Chris Burns:
Could this be a democracy deficit, especially from Brussels? I think a lot of people are beating up on Brussels, especially these populist parties, saying ‘We’re being dictated what to do.’ How do you fix that democracy gap, Aristides?

Aristides Hatzis:
You know what? One of the most important elements of our civilisation is this Madisonian legacy of the two principles. The democratic principle and the liberal principle. We should emphasise these two principles in the European institutional structure, and they could give more voice to the people through the democratic processes.

Chris Burns:
Philippe, do you think it’s time for a popularly elected EU president?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges:
No, I am not sure that I would like to have a popularly elected (president). It’s clear that, basically the job now, the work must be done at the national level. It means that national governments must be brave enough to explain that we are in a new world and we need a strong European federation. But it’s clear that these people are very ambivalent, especially in France, because on the one side they want a strong Europe, but on the (other) side they don’t want to transfer power to the European Union.

Chris Burns:
National politicians. And that means more of the same, right Marco? Or do see some other way? What about the European Parliament? Some people say that they don’t have enough power and that many of their elections are decided by protest votes. How do you try to give more power to the European Parliament.

Marco Incerti:
I think the European Parliament has been getting more and more powers at every successive……

Chris Burns:
…it has, under the Lisbon Treaty, yes that’s true…..

Marco Incerti:
… yes, not just that, but also the last 20 years. Indeed it would need, especially if we’re talking about establishing a European economic governance system, the European Parliament would have to have more of a say about that, and more control over it.

Chris Burns:
Aristides, there’s a lot of frustration in Greece about being told what to do. What do you think the answer is?

Aristides Hatzis:
People in Europe, they think that a vote for the European Parliament is a vote with no consequences. It’s something like a free vote. So we should do whatever we can to persuade the European people that a vote for the European Parliament has consequences, because now after the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has more power than it had before.

Chris Burns:
Philippe, you seem to be opposed to that idea of giving more power to the European Parliament, or what do you think?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges:
No, no I think the European Parliament should get more power but the problem is today that the European Parliament has not the key power that any national parliament has. It is taxing power. We have increased a lot the powers of the…..

Chris Burns:
…OK, so does it need that kind of power? Is that the kind of power it needs?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges:
Yes. We need popular representation, beginning with taxation. And taxation is not settled at the European level, it is settled at the national level, between the national governments. You know, this parliament is not a true parliament. It has a lot of power, but it lacks the decisive power, the taxing power.

Chris Burns:
OK, let’s go to Marco, and this is the last question for all of you. Where do you see the EU and the eurozone in 10 years? Do you see it smaller or larger? Do you see it more powerful or more divided? Will there be a trading bloc? Or what?

Marco Incerti:
I think the big question is whether the EU will ‘be’ or not. I think this has been abused as a sentence but we are indeed in one of those make-or-break moments. So the big question is whether and what kind of answers the leaders will be able to give to the huge problems that are currently on the table. One of the solutions will probably be this two-speed Europe idea that has been coming back to the fore. Certainly there may be stronger integration between certain of the member states who are more willing to progress on their own.

Chris Burns:
Aristides, do you see Greece in the EU, in the euro in 10 years?

Aristides Hatzis:
I’m very optimistic generally, and I think Greece will stay in the European Union. So it’s absolutely certain for me that we will do our best to stay in this European Union (which) will certainly be more homogenous and more powerful.

Chris Burns:
Philippe, you’ve got the last word. What do you think? Where is Europe going to be in 10 years?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges:
If the European Union survives it won’t be a two-speed Europe. We need a broad Europe, a large Europe. Because, you know, geography is a key factor, we cannot forget geography. In fact, if we have a two-speed Europe we will live with these countries that are outside this strong Europe. And one of the main challenges we don’t mention will be the relationship between the north and the south, the Mediterranean. We must establish a strong partnership with both.

Chris Burns:
I’d like to thank our guests Aristides Hatzis, Philippe Moreau-Defarges and Marco Incerti.