Populist and extremist parties took a quarter of the seats in the European elections, forcing the mainstream left and right into a de facto grand coalition.
How will that coalition shape the new leadership of the European Parliament, Commission and Council? And what about Europe’s policies on fighting unemployment, avoiding another financial crisis and dealing with immigration?
To explore what role the populists might play, euronews’ Chris Burns talked to Paulo Rangel, the Portuguese Vice-President of the parliamentary European People’s Party group, (EPP); Kathleen Van Brempt, a Belgian member of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D parliamentary group); and Gerolf Annemans, a newly-elected member of the European Parliament and president of the Belgian party Vlaams Belang, considered to be one of the far-right anti-immigration groups in the parliament.
Paulo Rangel thought that the new extremist seats would not lead to paralysis in the European Parliament. “I think that this will require more compromise between the parties in the centre, I mean a grand coalition of Greens, Liberals, EPP, S&D, even the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists). But I don’t think this will lead to paralysis.”
Kathleen Van Brempt pointed out that the extremists were not one cohesive group: “The extreme right parties are anti-European but they are also very anti-immigration, very anti-Islam, and that’s their core business. The extreme left or far left are less Eurosceptic than the far right.”
Gerolf Annemans however, said that he would not be worried if the European Parliament was paralysed: “If this system, this federal system becomes blocked, I’m not against it.” He went on to say that he personally was a ‘con-federalist’: “The centrefold of Europe should be and should stay the Member States. And we even want to give power back to the member states.”
Paulo Rangel pointed out that some debates were more useful than others: “I think it’s important to have voices in the parliament that are against European federalism. This is a good debate. The problem is not the debate for or against European integration, it is the policies against immigration, it is xenophobia and racism that are the problem.”
Gerolf Annemans stressed his point of view: “I am not an extremist, I am not a racist. I am a European con-Federalist.”
On the question of who will be the next president of the European Commission, the panel discussed various possibilities: Jean-Claude Juncker, Christine Lagarde, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
All were agreed that it would be important to follow the correct process and to co-operate with the results.
Gerolf Annemans had a slightly different opinion however: “In my view the Commission is the secretariat of the Council, and should not be more than that, so we should not give a political role to the European Commission. I don’t care who is the next Commission president as long as he or she has as little political power as possible.”
On the question of immigration, the panel considered whether or not Schengen is in trouble. Paulo Rangel thought it might be: “Well, I think there is a risk that it is in trouble. I think that we should continue to defend the Schengen system and the Schengen freedoms. But of course we have to care about the problem which is benefit tourism.”
Kathleen Van Brempt agreed: “I have seen a study which proved that social tourism is only a problem in one percent of cases. So let’s not make it a bigger problem than it is. The problem is not Schengen, the problem is not social tourism, but the problem is social dumping. The fact that Spanish labourers in Belgium are paid 203 euros an hour. That’s what we have to deal with, that’s what we have to sort out.”
Gerolf Annemans, however, would like to see the end of Schengen: “Of course Schengen and the concept of Schengen is in trouble. We all as member states allowed Europe to abolish our internal borders and Europe promised to guard our external borders and this was a failure as has been showed in the last five years, so we should rethink Schengen and the whole concept.”
Click on the video link to watch the whole programme.