The upcoming European Parliament elections will be crucial.
Amidst the chaos and confusion of Brexit, the established political parties, such as the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D), are predicted to lose a significant amount of seats and, with them, their combined majority in Parliament.
Years after the so--called migration crisis, the established parties have still not found an answer to rising far-right, populist and anti-European movements that have significantly grown among almost all EU member states, taking the lead in polls in at least three: Italy, Poland and France.
This trend will have significant impact on the new European Parliament, which is being elected from May 23rd to May 26th across Europe and will have its constituent session in July of this year.
In addition to S&D and EPP losing their combined majority, far-right and nationalistic groups are predicted to double their seats yet again. It was just announced that some of these groups are planning to form a new coalition with parties ranging from the German Alternative for Germany to the Danish People’s Party to the Italian 5 Star Movement that will significantly increase their influence in the EU Parliament.
To make matters worse, the biggest group, EPP, is shrinking further, having just suspended Victor Orban’s Hungarian Fidesz party due to its anti-European and anti-Semitic campaigns, which might also put into jeopardy the nomination of Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber as new commission president.
With the election campaigns just starting, politicians from centrist parties are calling for a doomsday vote, hysterically reiterating the importance of this vote as the year of destiny that will make or break the European Union. But one cannot ignore the strange feeling of having seen and heard all of this before:
The slogans and warnings were the same in 2014 during the last elections, when the campaign promises from the various parties were almost identical to the current ones.
The only thing that seems to have changed, besides the increased urgency of the surge in right-wing populist movements, is the fact that the political groups in the EU Parliament spent yet another five years unable or unwilling to address the urgent issues and present a proper alternative to rising populism, nationalism and, with it, also the terrifying rise of anti-Semitism across Europe.
It might look as if the EU has done quite a lot in the time between the 2014 elections and today, including creating the position of a special coordinator on combatting anti-Semitism, implementing a code of conduct with IT companies to tackle hate speech and anti-Semitism online, adopting an EU Parliament Anti-Semitism Resolution in 2017 and Council Declaration in 2018 and making combatting anti-Semitism a priority in the last two EU Council presidencies of Austria and Romania.
But despite all of these efforts, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism has nevertheless escalated across Europe. The 2018 EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency Report on Anti-Semitism is the undeniable proof for this devastating failure.
The fear is that this further shift to the right after the elections will also significantly threaten the already too-little and too-ineffective efforts against anti-Semitism on the EU level and in its member states.
The political power shift will have direct implications for the European Parliament committee chairs and the Parliament president and vice-presidents as well as the nomination and confirmation of EU commissioners.
Imagine what will happen if the relevant European Parliament committee for fundamental rights and combatting anti-Semitism, the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home affairs committee (LIBE), is chaired by a far-right nationalist member of parliament. Imagine having a xenophobic, populist justice commissioner a few months from now.
This is not doom-mongering, but is unfortunately a possible scenario that already exists in EU member states such as Austria, where all ministries relevant to Jewish issues are in the hands of the populist far-right FPÖ, a party with which the Israelite Community of Vienna rightfully refuses to engage.
And to complicate matters even further, the European heads of state have just decided in a special council meeting in Brussels that the U.K. will get yet another extension until Oct. 31, 2019, to sort out the messy Brexit negotiation gridlock, including full membership rights and obligations that will make them participate in the EU elections as well as negotiations for the upcoming EU budget and composition of the new EU commission should they be unable to leave beforehand by agreeing to the existing deal.
There is still so much to do to even slow down the ugly resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The last thing anyone needs is yet another deterioration of the political status quo in the EU that will make the fight against anti-Semitism even more difficult and might lock down the EU institutions altogether, thereby making them unable to protect what they were established to do: protecting and promoting the European values of fundamental rights for each and every one of its citizens.
Benjamin Nägele was named director of E.U. affairs for B’nai B’rith International in 2015. In this capacity he focuses on promoting EU-Israel relations and advocates for Jewish causes at the European institutions in Brussels. He previously worked as an EU affairs officer for B’nai B’rith International and as a policy advisor at the European Parliament. Click here to read more of his work.
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