Europe in 2019: who will emerge triumphant?

Commentators have long been predicting that the European elections in May will be decisive for Europe's future - not least because the right-wing populists are forming alliances and the hard-right US strategist Steve Bannon has joined the fray with his organisation The Movement. Commentators discuss the populists' appeal and chances of success.

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Republic (RU) /

Dumb majority is construct of conservative elites

For historian Ivan Kurilla growing populism is not a movement from below but a weapon used by influential circles in the political power struggle. He writes in Republic:

“We are seeing a very simple but very effective manipulation. Political elites are shaping the 'ignorant majority' and then using it to unsettle the educated part of the population. ... The confrontation between the 'educated class' and the 'ignorant majority' is not natural, it is a product of political constructions. ... In the US, part of the Republican establishment is using Trump as a battering ram against the democratic elite entrenched at the universities and newspaper editing departments, using anti-intellectualism as a synonym for a coalition against the Democratic Party.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Populists must explain their vision for Europe

Italy's Interior Minister Salvini and his Polish counterpart Brudziński have announced a "European spring" and an Italian-Polish axis aimed at breaking the German-French dominance in the EU. They must be clearer about what they want to achieve, says commentator Cristian Unteanu in his blog with Adevărul:

“This new axis is already provoking huge consternation. Will it bring real change or suffer the same painful and dangerously unsuccessful fate of the 'Arab Spring'? ... Or will it just fizzle out like so many axes before it? I don't think so. Because here something well-founded was promised which affects a section of the European electorate that is disoriented, disappointed and looking for something new. ... But first the symbolic new axis must present something, it must say clearly what kind of different Europe it wants.”

Pravda (SK) /

Putin and Bannon waiting like vultures

The elections in May will be game-changing for Europe, Pravda writes in consternation:

“Gone are the days when the conservatives and the socialists vied for power in the EU Parliament and in the end always agreed on a form of cohabitation. It looks like that way of doing things will now be shaken to its foundations. The various nationalists want to form their own group in Parliament. And even though migration is no longer as big a problem as it was in 2015, they have no qualms about fanning people's fears. ... Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, for example, isn't beating around the bush when he calls for the unification of populist groups to 'defend Christian, white Europe'. His goal is the same as Putin's: to divide and weaken Europe and make it easy prey.”

Kurier (AT) /

Europe's destroyers look on and smirk

Right and left-wing populists are now fighting side-by-side against the pro-European political centre, Kurier warns:

“It's disturbing to see that left and right-wing politicians in France, the Mélenchons and the Le Pens, are cheering on the yellow-vest protests. That the Italian government (!) is calling on the yellow vests to remain 'steadfast' against a president who acts 'against his people' ... They are watching eagerly from the first row as the situation becomes more and more serious. And cheering the protesters on - Salvini, who was in Poland last Wednesday to expand the coalition of EU destroyers. The destroyers are focused on fanning fears (of loss) and promoting seemingly simple solutions such as: the establishment has to go. The words of Emmanuel Macron and the truth that politicians sometimes have to make unpopular decisions have little chance in such a context.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

The left is waiting for its chance

Journalist Gideon Rachman remarks a change of trend in The Irish Times:

“The race to be the next Democratic nominee for the US presidency has begun. Most of the energy in the party seems to be on its 'progressive' wing, exemplified by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These are politicians who attack the rich and privileged in a way that used to be taboo in mainstream US politics. In Britain, the post-Brexit blues could easily present Jeremy Corbyn with the chance to become prime minister. A Corbyn victory in Britain would inspire left-populists around the world, much as Brexit persuaded rightwing populists (including the Trump campaign) that history was moving in their direction.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The false creed of the elites

The elites are to blame for the success of populism, historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia writes in Corriere della Sera:

“When the nationalist identity wave in Europe swells, this happens to a large extent for an obvious but often ignored reason: the failure of the continent's traditional elites. This failure is primarily an ideological-cultural failure. ... It is mainly due to the identification with globalisation and its ideology, which became the most important and almost unique point of reference of the Western elites in the 1980s and 1990s. ... This affiliation with the creed of globalisation was formed because the West saw the three pillars on which its political reconstruction in the post-war period was based - Christianity, the welfare state, and the nation state - facing an insurmountable crisis.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Independent list against extreme right

Muslims must also grasp the European elections in 2019 as a touchstone for democracy, ex-SPD politician and current AKP adviser Ozan Ceyhun admonishes in Daily Sabah, pinning his hopes on the independent candidate list:

“Unfortunately, there are no Muslim candidates in either Germany or other European countries, with the exception of Holland, for the European Parliament. ... At least there can be an independent list in Germany, which consists of people responsible and aware of democracy. Not having done so before in large numbers in the past, this list could inspire Muslim voters to go to the ballot box and perhaps block a party like the NPD from gaining a seat in parliament. Why not? In the European Parliament elections to be held in 2019, we can claim democracy and at least stand against the rise of the extreme right and racists.”

Polityka (PL) /

Only Macron can defend Europe

Strong figures are needed for the European elections, stresses author Adam Szostkiewicz in his blog with Polityka:

“Pro-European parties should elect lead candidates who realise the significance of the elections. They must be in a position to expose the slogans of the nationalists for what they are and counter them effectively. The French president is good at this. To mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War he visited the sites of the battles that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. ... He didn't beat around the bush: the leprosy of nationalism and the effect of external forces represent a threat to peace in Europe. After Merkel's departure Macron will be the only spokesman and defender of Europe.”

Contrepoints (FR) /

Macron should avoid creating rifts

Macron's moralising election campaign will lead to further polarisation in Europe, warns lawyer Philippe Bilger in Contrepoints:

“It seems to me that the president's ethical approach to European policy - I'm moral and the others aren't - is dangerous. Because his camp could come out the loser of the elections in May 2019, resulting in radical upheaval and deliberately creating rifts between those who believe in a humanist Europe and those of a realist Europe, between two approaches to Europe. ... The defeat of the Europe that is portrayed as generous would have dire consequences, because then one would have maintained that the triumph of the authentic Europe is the good outcome and that its end is necessarily bad.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling

Rock star Bono waves the European flag at U2 concerts. He summarises his views as follows in La Repubblica:

“Nationalists say diversity is a danger. Seek refuge, they tell us, in sameness; drive out the different. Their vision for the future looks to me a lot like the past. ... I love our differences: our dialects, our traditions, our peculiarities. ... . And I believe they still leave room for what Churchill called 'an enlarged patriotism': plural allegiances, layered identities, to be Irish and European, German and European, not either/or. ... Real patriots seek unity above homogeneity. Reaffirming that is, to me, is the real European project. ... To prevail in these troubled times Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling.”

Causeur (FR) /

Macron's anti-Orbán strategy is dangerous

Macron is committing a grave mistake in casting himself as Viktor Orbán's rival, Aymeric Chauprade, MEP and former advisor to Marine Le Pen, writes in Causeur:

“If the European Union continues to refuse to listen to the Central European governments, who are not only the spokespersons for their people but are also increasingly for public opinion across Europe, in just a few years' time there will be nothing left of Europe. However, there is another reason why Emmanuel Macron would be well advised not to play with the fire of the East: demonising the Central European governments will only strengthen Atlanticism (in the case of Poland and the Slavic countries) and the rapprochement with Russia (in the case of Hungary).”

L'Opinion (FR) /

New foundation or demise

Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and current liberal MEP, calls for the EU to be refounded on a new basis in L'Opinion:

“This disastrous episode in the history of European construction faces our fellow citizens with a question. And we cannot let the populists and their idiotic slogans be the only ones to address this question. Nor can we heed the apathetic harping-on of the conservatives, whose procrastination would leave us entrapped in a lethal status quo. The hour of truth has come. Either Europe puts itself on a new footing or it will fall apart. The politics of small steps is no longer tenable. The pro-European forces must unite to offer a new and conquering triumphant alternative, so as to construct a Europe that no one will ever want to leave.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

The EU's worst enemies are in its parliament

Jyllands-Posten voices its outrage over the MEPs' salaries:

“According to the EP website their annual salary is 770,000 krona [103,000 euros]. Travel expenses and meetings are reimbursed on presentation of an invoice. Then there's 2,280 krona [306 euros] as a daily allowance. Plus the famous 33,000 krona [4,435 euros] a month in tax-free 'office costs'. No one can seriously doubt that they should have a decent income, not least because they spend many days away from home. ... But in the meantime it has become clear that the 751 parliamentarians haven't understood that the way they handle the taxpayers' money is a destructive factor for the EU. ... The EU has many enemies, but its biggest enemy is the European Parliament.”

Denník N (SK) /

Europe struggling with shift to the right

Only the blind would fail to see that the EU is drifting to the right, Dennik N says commenting on the situation in the run-up to the European elections and citing the report presented by Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini:

“The hope that the far right would be pushed to the fringes of society and would quietly 'dissolve' there has not been fulfilled. Instead levels of solidarity and tolerance have dropped. The vocabulary of the right has been adopted, ostensibly in an attempt to take the wind out of its sails. Against this background the European Parliament's approval of Ms Sargentini's report is vital. It clearly says that not just Trump and Putin pose a threat for Europe, but also Orbán and co. who are seen as Eurosceptics but are essentially extremist and anti-democratic.”