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Interview with Stefano Braghiroli: Divides, collapses and pan-European issues – the European Union in 2019

Interview with Stefano Braghiroli: Divides, collapses and pan-European issues – the European Union in 2019
Autor: Vahur Hollo

 

Vahur: It’s been two days since the European Parliament elections. On this rainy Tuesday I am sitting here with Mr. Braghiroli, a lecturer and an expert on the subject of the European Union. The results are in, but the reactions have been mixed so far . Perhaps you could name your three main takeaways from this election?

Stefano: First of all, thank you for taking the time to listen my points.

Three main takeaways:

First of all, it has been the most European election so far. What I mean by that is that the debate, the nature of the issues discussed has been in many respects pan-European. The debate has crossed the borders. It involves different countries relating not only to their own experience but also relating to a more transnational debate. The topics I could refer to would be immigration, security, the economic model that Europe should pursue, but also the broader question which Europe do we want? While in the past the topics discussed, particularly the last one, were more restricted to intellectual circles and so on, but now these are questions that many Europeans are asking from themselves. That’s the first point.

The second point is related to the first one – for the first time in 20 years, the turnout has grown. So that means that Europe is not only at the center of the debates. These debates, along with other factors of course, have made these elections more interesting, more appealing, and more sensitive to more Europeans.  That would differ from the idea that the European parliamentary elections function as second-order national elections.

The third point I would divide into A  and B. There certainly has been a decline in the two main party groups: the EPP (European People’s Party) and the PES (Party of European Socialists). Those have over the decades represented the so called “Brussels consensus”. That was also translated into at least a simple majority of seats of the European Parliament.  But, as we notice in point B, while there is an opposition to these two party groups, the opposition is not always anti-European or Eurosceptic. There’s now also a pro-European progressive alternative. This has been manifested in the massive growth of the Greens-EFA and also an increase of the share of the liberal democrats (ALDE).

 

Vahur: But this election’s furore definitely did not equally reach all parts of the European Union. For example, the local elections coverage in Ida Virumaa heavily featured the opinion “What would we get out participating in the EU election?” Was the expansion of turnout sufficient to maintain the EU?

Stefano: I think that we would have to look and differentiate between different countries and different regions within these countries. The fact that Europe is more debated, even if we look at street level conversations, can be reflected in more ways than voting behaviour. Even if the benefits of voting are under question, as they are in this specific example, almost all the other counties (in Estonia) saw a marginal increase in participation. The cases of Ida Virumaa, and also some districts of Tallinn, saw a decline in turnout which was related to a political decision of the voters – many voters decided not to go to vote, which is also a political decision. This decision wasn’t necessarily related to Europe, but also could have been motivated by the internal dynamics of Estonia. Again, this happens in Estonia as it happens in every other country.

Vahur: Even though the 50,5% turnout was, as you mentioned, the highest in 20 years, according to many news outlets, the majority of Europeans don’t expect the EU to last for another 20 years. Is there a discrepancy here?[1]

Stefano: Here I would come with a correction. You’re referring to a survey which has made a lot of headlines. However, the survey  did not say that a majority of Europeans expect the EU not to exist in 20 years. Many Europeans consider the possibility that the EU will not exist in 20 years. So they didn’t declare the EU dead in 20 years, they said it might die in 20 years. And I very much share this vision. The key message is exactly this: the EU can’t be taken for granted, the EU *should not* be taken for granted. Let me put it this way: If you are outside, like in the park near your home, you don’t care much, you are talking with your friends, and suddenly you notice that your home is on fire. You might have the desire to run to your home to make sure that the entire structure does not burn down! So one of the explanations, the reasons, and we need to be talking of a set of factors, not a single one, is that Europeans value what the EU has meant and continues to mean for them. This is not a contradiction but relates quite clearly with the aforementioned vision that the EU should not be taken for granted. They feel that the best way to do that is to participate in the EU elections and in that way shape the future of the EU.

Vahur: In addition to that, I would also refer any readers to a different analysis by the originators of the survey the coverage was based on which claims that 9 out of 10 Europeans believe they would lose out if the  EU collapsed.[2] This appears to support your point.

Vahur: Apart from “democracy”, who were the main winners and losers of this election? You already mentioned the EPP and PES as having suffered, but would you like to add anyone?

Stefano: Yes. If you look purely at the numbers, there has been an increase in support for the Greens-EFA, for sure. I don’t know to which extent it would be correct to be talking about a green wave, but there was an increase in support for both the Greens and environmentalists.

Also, apart from the addition of Macron’s party En Marche, there has been an increase of support towards the liberal democrats (ALDE). There has also been an increase of support for the overall eurosceptic/nationalist front. One thing that I would like to stress in regards to this last point is that while numerically the far right and the eurosceptics share of parliament has grown, their unity is still under question. Yes, there is a new group sponsored by Salvini, but this group has not yet been able to attract all the nationalists and eurosceptics underneath an overall umbrella.

Another matter to be stressed is that while the two party groups, which have been dominating the EU parliament since, basically it’s creation, have declined, if we take the overall pro-european front, which includes the Greens and ALDE  along  with the socialists and the EPP,  which are all indeed characterized by their support for european integration, I would not say that there’s been a big decline in the support of pro-european parties. Most of the votes that went out of the support of the main party groups have been counterbalanced by the support that went into ALDE and the Greens. If one makes this calculation, we only see a decline of about 10 seats, which is a small proportion of the 751 total seats.

Le Pen in Estonia. Source: Estonian world

Vahur: Since we are already on the topic of Salvini and Lega, his coalition of let’s say “right-wing populists”, did double its number of seats in the election. Can we already guess how influential this specific group, the European Alliance of People and Nations, is going to be? It’s currently the 4th largest coalition.

Stefano: If we speak of the success of Salvini, one has to mention national factors. Let’s say it’s due to the decline of another ruling coalition within Italy, as well as the growth of the League (English name for Lega) which has basically gained part of the voters of another political force. When we talk about the European level coalition, however, I would not say that at least so far, in terms of size, the group hasn’t managed to achieve more across the borders than the group that we have now – Europe of Nations and Freedom (most of the members have joined the new European Alliance of People and Nations).
Of course, it has ambition to bring in other groups like, for example, the Estonian National Conservative Party (EKRE).  In regards to the position of the group awarded by its size in the European Parliament, it’s not yet clear whether it will be the 4th or the 5th largest group, depending on how many greens or nationalists there will be. However again, in terms of real impact, a group with let’s say 70 members by itself is completely uninfluential. A group of 70 can be very vocal – it can speak and scream a lot but in terms of policy making it can achieve very little. When would it be able to achieve something? If it manages to get into a coalition with other party groups. For this it would need large party groups such as ALDE, EPP or the PES, which, frankly, I don’t see happening, unless we’re talking about ad hoc votes about something like mediterranean olive oil. But in politically sensitive issues, I don’t see them playing a substantial role in the policy making itself. Another option would see them becoming a larger group of more than 100 MEPs. In order to do that in the strategically most likely scenario, it would need to become an umbrella coalition of all the eurosceptics and all the nationalists. Here I see two aspects. When you talk about the eurosceptics, especially in the light of the results, we could be talking about an example like Nigel Farage. For the EAPN (European Alliance of Peoples and Nations), Nigel Farage has many pluses and many minuses. One of the pluses or minuses would be that Nigel is someone who always wants to be the one on the front page. And entering a group in which there is already a star like Salvini might be very detrimental in terms of visibility for him. There’s also the matter of… not necessarily ideology, although the Brexit party does not want to be defined as a far right or nationalist party. That was allegedly one of the reasons why Nigel Farage condemned UKIP (UK Independence Party) – he thought that UKIP took a too radical nationalist stance. That image is not something that Nigel Farage wants. Another specific point, more related to geopolitics, is that one of the factors that prevent many nationalists, and I’m not talking about eurosceptic but specifically nationalist parties, from joining Salvini’s party group is the Russian factor. The group is led by three major parties: the League, Alternative für Deutschland, and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. All these three parties are considered to be very close to the positions of the Kremlin and have been not only politically but also financially connected to the Kremlin. For many parties specifically in the Nordic-Baltic area or in Central Eastern Europe, this is a bridge too far. The Poles, the Latvians, the Lithuanians are not at least at the moment interested in joining what could turn out to be the most pro-Russian group in the European Parliament. There’s a reason why the Estonians are not in this list, but that leaves the scope of this question.

 

Vahur: Would you like to speculate why the Estonian National Conservative Party (EKRE) did not choose the European Conservatives and Reformists as a parliamentary group?

Stefano: Everyone is aware that the League, the National Rally and the AfD have been among, if not the most pro-Russian parties in the European Parliament. However, there are two factors which likely influenced the decision. The first is that EKRE wanted a central position, it wanted to make itself valuable. By joining this new group, the party managed to be amongst the key initial players of the party, representatives of the party group were invited to Milan, to the big rally before the European elections. Another example of this importance is the recent visit of Marine Le Pen to Estonia. These mean centrality and visibility for EKRE. The second aspect which I believe also plays a role is that while EKRE itself is of course aware that most of these actors are seen as pro-Russia for a reason, it also believes that it can keep the national and European levels different and separate. The party can sit together with pro-Russian parties in Europe, but that won’t resonate too much in Estonia. However, as we can see after the visit of Marine Le Pen, the strategy has caused some issues for them, especially related to Marine Le Pen’s connections to the Kremlin. Of course, EKRE could have made the same choice as their Latvian partners National Alliance and joined the European Conservatives and Reformists. There were two factors which might have made the group unappealing. Firstly, the threat of a Brexit which might happen after a certain point might have made the group unappealing, as their numbers would substantially decrease after the British MEPs leave. That in turn could mean a crisis for the group (there are size and state diversity requirements to forming party factions within the European Parliament – V.H.). The group might collapse. In addition, from EKRE’s side, the group might seem too moderate, from the ECR’s side, EKRE might seem too extreme to be welcomed.

Vahur: That is extremely interesting. One of the goals for the right wing populists who created EAPN was to increase the national profile of their members. Will such an effect occur in the national dimension?

Stefano: Are we talking about Estonian or the European level?

Vahur: the overall level, so European, I would say.

Stefano: Being part of the largest group of the far right has its advantages. It gives you visibility, it gives you infrastructural support, it gives you legitimacy in the eyes of your voters. I don’t want to stick too much to the Estonian conduct, but again, Marine Le Pen came here for one reason, to show that a big name is with them. At the same time, there is of course a constraint – by being part of a group, which has been labeled by pretty much every observer as far right and nationalist, you define yourself as far right and nationalist. You can call that “a New Vision for Europe”, the revenge of European Nations or whatever. Still, you circumscribe your sphere of political action to the far right.

Vahur: What role, if any, did Steve Bannon play in this European election? He was rumored to be one of the engineers of a far right movement to destabilize the EU. His effectiveness or the scope of his actions have been disputed, however.

Stefano: Steve Bannon wanted to play a role in this campaign and in the general development of a strong and united far right. It’s well known that his blessing was considered a blessing from the sky by many. Clearly there was a demand and there was a willingness to supply. However, I’m not really sure if he succeeded. Let’s say if there was a real commitment to create a common united front for the far right, then, sorry Mr. Bannon, you did not achieve much in that sense. His role has been overestimated. He has been a well known figure since his involvement in the US presidential campaign, so the fact that his face was seen in Europe a few times, while he is still in touch with a number of European nationalists and he has also contributed to organizing a number of events, he mostly succeeded in augmenting the appearance of his role beyond it’s real impact. Bannon himself underestimated, I think, the size of this challenge. While he possesses, to a certain extent, an understanding of European complexity, he might not be overly aware of all the parochialism, that even in the limited scope of a century has characterized all the nationalist forces in Europe. That is a problem apart from the Russia factor which was mentioned before. Nationalists are extremely unlikely to stick together for a long time and to cooperate thanks to centuries-old disputes. Let’s imagine what it would mean to stick the Hungarian nationalists, the Slovak nationalists and the Slovak nationalists, all under the same umbrella. Good luck! And not just because of Russia, but because their own identity has been built on the hatred of the others.  So it becomes really complicated to keep them together. Moreover, there is another thing, which Bannon might also have underestimated. If you say “America First!” in the US, it might work, as the US is a country. One might, to a certain extent artificially, say that the country has one interest. But if we have “France First”, “Italy First”, “Austria First”, “Germany First”, “Poland First”, it can’

European elections. Source: BBC

t be a zero-sum game anymore. If I say “Italy First!”, Austria might end up second. This might create more and more clashes among the already existing cleavages between the European North and South and the European East and West.

Vahur: For the purposes of fairness, it must be pointed out that EKRE would claim that the Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian nationalisms from centuries ago cannot be compared to the nationalisms of today.

Stefano: Certainly. There is an attempt to create an European community of nationalists that talk about the dimension of nation states or possibly ethnostates working together but of course they don’t stress the conflicts of the past. There’s a debate (amongst nationalists – VH) on Intermarium[3] , there’s a debate on how European nationalist nations might cooperate. But I still believe the roots matter.

Vahur: Andrus Ansip, the former prime minister of Estonia, along with prominent media such as Postimees, saw the Estonian election result as a protest against the Estonian government. However, considering the low turnout of 37,2%, would you agree with this assessment?

Stefano: There’s two sides to which I would like to appeal here. First, Ansip also campaigned on that narrative, but he also simply restated that, which to political science is obvious – European elections, along with other elections seen as secondary by the public, are the perfect terrain where voters can sanction someone. The parties in government are more likely to lose votes, because voting in European elections can be seen as a traditional protest vote. That might be the case.

Moreover, the debate about the formation of the current coalition has been far from straightforward from the parties in power. Hence, it’s also far from uncriticized. This has created a certain amount of resentment within certain segments of Estonian society. Let me put it this way – there is room to express disappointment in the choices of some of the parties in the aftermath of the parliamentary election. Whether that worked is another question. The turnout, while low, has increased compared to the last time. As I said before, it has increased in all the all the counties, except for Ida Virumaa + some districts of Tallinn. If we take a map, we can see that these overlap with the only regions which were coloured green.[4] This difference can be to some amount attributed to some protest against the current government.

Vahur: Another topic frequently raised in Estonian media is the question of potentially lost prestige by appointing the current government into power. Internationally prominent media outlets have been very critical of the current government, but right wing populist parties have seen a rise of power in many other nations across the world. In that light, has Estonia really lost any of its international standing?

Stefano: There were many international outlets. You are right, in many places far right and nationalist parties have been emerging. It is quite a trend. However, while this is not a fair or necessarily a right thing, there are some countries which can afford to have a far right party in government, because they have a long history of being a consolidated democracy, of being a successful western country, which can afford damaging it’s reputation, as this development damages, but does not totally harm the country’s reputation. Estonia has spent more than 20 years, and I would say with good results, moving itself in the eyes of many observers into the New Nordic. It was seen as an open country, “The Small Estonian Miracle”, the digital state, the paradise of the digital nomad and so on and so forth. The fact that over the last month and a half, there’s been a wave of let’s say not particularly positive publicity – when it comes at least to one member of the Estonian government, it becomes more difficult to uphold the former messaging. And again, I come back to the intial point – in the realm of international relations everyone knows where Paris and London are. Not everyone knows where Tallinn is or too much about it. Having the far right in government might change some observers views. Of course nothing is destroyed or lost forever, but the image of a modern innovative Nordic country might have suffered.

Vahur: Let’s change gears. As you mentioned before, this was the first European election with pan-European themes in the center of the debates. For the first time a Spitzenkandidat was prominently proposed by most  major EU-level parties.  Could you describe what a Spitzenkandidat is and what percentage of the EU voting population would be able to accurately describe what a Spitzenkandidat is?

Stefano: Let me start with the last part: Very few. I don’t have a crystal ball, but if you refer to the average EU voter, I would say below 10%. And that would still be an optimistic understanding. Even the formation of a national government can be complicated – not many know all the steps. So this would be even more remote.
Spitzenkandidat comes from a German tradition or understanding of parliamentary politics – Every party competing selects one figure as candidate to the top position of either the national government, or in this case, the European Commission.  This is not in contrast with the treaty – the treaty says that the one to appoint the person to the position of the head of the European Commission is the European Council, but then that president would have to receive a vote of confidence by the European Parliament.
What the treaty also states is that when the Council picks a name as the candidate for President of the European Commission, the Council should also consider, as part of the process, the results of the European Elections. What that meant in the past is that when the EPP received a plurality of the votes in the election, the candidate would be a member of the EPP. What the Spitzenkandidat means is that the person that the member states pick should be that candidate. While the name and label Spitzenkandidat became popular during this election, almost to the level of a hashtag, the process already emerged in the previous European Parliamentary election. The EPP picked Jean Claude Juncker as their Spitzenkandidat, the PES then picked Martin Schultz. The Radical Left picked Alexis Tsipras. The result was that after a lot of clashes and political fighting both within the EPP and the member states governments, Jean Claude Juncker was picked. If we look at the results, the largest parliamentary group within the European Parliament remains the EPP, it nominated Manfred Weber as Spitzenkandidat, then he should theoretically become President of the European Commission.  However, this theory will have to be tested in the discussions between the heads of state and heads of government and the parliament as well as among the heads of state and heads of government themselves.

Vahur: Could you speculate what the result will be?

Stefano: What we notice is that the German government is very much promoting Martin Weber’s bid. We also notice others, such as French president Macron, being very sceptical of Manfred Weber as President of the European Commission. Weber might be competent, but he might lack a genuine sense of leadership. But this might not be a big minus for the President of the European Commission. Other parties, in fact, are less clear whether they support the Spitzenkandidaten system or not. It’s true that by now it has become a consolidated habit, but for example ALDE did not select a single person, but proposed eight figures that might be good picks for the position and the eurosceptics with the exception of the ECR did in fact not embrace the system. There is no Spitzenkandidat from ENF, there is no Spitzenkandidat for the EFDD. In terms of picks, it depends how much the EPP will be able to present the elections results as their victory. Their numbers have declined severely, which might undermine Mr. Weber’s narrative of being the best candidate. Frans Timmermans might not lack the sense of leadership compared to Weber, but is widely seen as too leftist to gather enough votes to pass a vote of confidence. One option is that out of this clash, a liberal candidate could emerge. Another option is that the member states go back to the “good old way” of doing things. They might nominate someone from the EPP as they got the largest parliamentary group, but choose another member, not Manfred Weber, from that group. That person could, for example, be Barnier. Barnier is the name that many mention but has not yet been put down as a candidate. Another complication is that the President of the European Comission is nominated by the European Council by means of a qualified majority. That means that if there’s one, two, or three member states that are not in favor, that does not undermine the appointment at all.

Vahur: The people within the European Council will almost certainly change, considering that the European Parliamentary election have coincided, if not directly led to three heads of government resigning or calling for snap elections (at the time of interview Austria, the United Kingdom, Greece). Romania saw a major upset in it’s ruling party being completely crushed in the election and France narrowly saw Le Pen inching towards a victory amidst massive turnout. Is this business as usual or is this level of protest something out of the ordinary?

Stefano: I would say that there might be some peaks that were higher than in an usual election, but it’s more or less business as usual. As I said before, the EU parliament elections have always been a good opportunity to protest against the ruling parties. Of course, if the defeat is too heavy, some parties might opt for snap elections or the government might fall under the pressure of some of these allied factors. We should consider that the fall of the Austrian government does not fall under the EU elections. Although Marine Le Pen in fact received a better result than Macron’s En Marche or Renessaisance, as it’s called now, by a few percentage points, one cannot call it a triumph of Le Pen or a dramatic defeat of Macron. The difference in percentage is that of a couple of points. Moreover, what mattered were both the European and the national parts of the story. Macron has gone through more than six months of protest by the gilets jaunes, which clearly did not help. And when it comes to the broader picture, this is multilevel Europe. That means the EU elections play a role in the national domestic environment and vice versa with national elections and the European level.

 

Vahur:  The Greens across Europe saw a massive surge in popularity, most prominently in Germany.  However, climate change sceptics have gathered a far larger share of the vote. Is the initial optimism of environmental activists premature or not? Was climate change, as they say, a defining issue of this election?

Stefano: Yes, for sure, environmentalism, even if it was not brought on as the top topic, it was clearly at the top of the debate. Some parties deny climate change or do no commit to fighting it, but this is also a form of bringing the debate to the European level. If you say climate change does not exist, you are still, in effect, debating climate change. And this goes far beyond the Greens because for example ALDE and PES have been actively discussing climate change. When it comes to EPP, they tried to be more cautious, but in the end, they had to deal with it. Was it a wave? Maybe. It’s another question whether or not the wave is sustainable. To an extent, this topic will remain at the top of the debate. The European Greens might become more relevant in forming a coalition and might actually contribute to it. Environmentalism has become part of the broader debate, reducing emissions to zero and so on. This in fact has given the topic more visibility and it is why a number of parties have felt compelled to talk about it.
Importantly, the relevance and centrality of the environmental topics have been key to mobilizing the young voters. While to a 70 year old, climate change might not be the most resonating of issues, to the young voter #fridaysforfuture, the very figure of Greta Thunberg, were topics that spoke to the younger generations.
The last point is that while there has been a Green Wave, it has been a split wave. All the MEPs for the EFA with very few exceptions come from Western European countries. There’s been a clear East-West division. In Central Eastern Europe, while environmentalism has become a larger part of the debates, the contribution of Green Parties have been minimal. Another issue, maybe not with regards to Estonia, but if you look at Latvia, if you look at Lithuania, if you look at Poland, those parties that nowadays call themselves Green parties are just agrarian parties that have added the green label to their agrarian one. So there’s also a difference in values between East and West. Western European Greens are in fact environmentalists and embrace the postmodern vision of the world. Often, the greens/agrarians of Central Eastern Europe are more like hunters than animal rights activists or wildlife activists.

Vahur: The last interview we had was about the then recent Italian election. Since then, Salvini has considerably increased his popularity. What can we expect out of Italy in the next few years?

Stefano: When we talked last time, we did not even have a government yet, so a lot of things have happened. In order to look at the implications of what has happened, let’s just look at brutal numbers. When the government in Italy was created, the largest party in the government was the Five Star Movement, a populist force which is hard to connote ideologically, with some components of the right and some components of the left, but mostly populist, which had roughly 30% of the votes. At the same time the League was mostly concentrated in the north with some constituencies in the center scored around 17%. What we see now is a complete inversion of the story. In these EU elections the League scored above 30%, doing so across the country, but when it came to the Five Star Movement, they scored to about 17%. So their roles have been completely inverted. It’s true that the European elections are not national elections. And it’s true that some of these voters might one day return to their original affiliation. But it is undeniable that over these months the league has eaten more and more voters of the Five Star movement, at least the ones that were more right leaning. After all, if you can choose between the original and the copy, why would you choose the copy? They have disappointed the voters who were more left leaning because of all of the radical policies that the government has proposed. So what we might expect is that although both partners were very fast to claim that the government will not face any challenge in the light of these elections, there will in fact be repercussions, which will affect the roles of these two political forces. In the weeks to come if not sooner, the League will march into the government with its key proposals, saying “We either get this, or the situation will become more unstable.” Because the League knows very well that if there would be an election, they would get even more votes, while the Five Star Movement is held hostage by their situation. Leaving the government in their current condition could be very detrimental for the Five Star Movement. This can be generalized – if main coalition partners bring in junior partners who are very visible in the political debates and the main force starts losing support, it becomes more and more difficult to leave the government. This is the short version of the story.

Vahur: Thank you. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to go more in depth today.  Italy is not the only “Bad Boy” of the European scene. For the last few years, both Poland and Hungary have had observers worried about the rise of concentration of power within their respective countries. If the European elections are any indication, both PiS in Poland and Fidesz in Hungary have either maintained their popularity, or in the case of Fidesz, even slightly increased it. Since reigning in either was already an issue and the previously applied measures have been less than effective, does the EU have any options left except for accepting the new political reality of these countries?

Stefano: The EU has options, but not all of these options are very direct or straightforward. Let me put it this way – Hungary and Poland have built the success of their economies primarily on EU money. So if there was one thing that might play a big role in affecting the political situation in Hungary and Poland, it would be money. There have been debates on connecting the allocation of structural funds to respecting the fundamental values of European integration. It’s a political debate – not all countries believe that this is the way to go. Personally I believe that it might be, but of course, in order to take such a step, there would have to be unanimity minus these two countries, so for the moment it’s just an ongoing debate. It’s quite clear that something has to be done. The EU is a union of states, a union of  citizens, but also a union in which the rights, the freedoms and liberties of the populations should be the same in all countries. And there shouldn’t be any grey zones in which the rule of law and basic freedoms are not respected. To put matters in perspective, there’s a very basic question we should ask ourselves. I will not provide the answer, although I believe everyone would have one if asked. If today, in the year 2019, Hungary and Poland wouldn’t be members of the European Union and would apply to join the European Union, would they qualify?

Vahur: A lot of people have answered that question with a “no.” But unfortunately for people who are worried about the developments in these countries, their governments appear to have more allies than ever.

Stefano: True. On a political level I agree, that is an issue. But the fact there is a problem which has to be addressed is quite clear.

Vahur: So maybe the solution is to change what the EU is?

Stefano: True. But here comes another issue. To change what the EU is, all the member states, at least as of now, should agree.

Vahur: They are certainly more quiet about some values as of now.

Stefano: Yes, but to change something like the current treaties, everyone would have to say yes to that. That is the key fundamental issue.

Vahur: That situation will certainly continue to be controversial. But also exciting from the perspective of political observers.
Stefano: Definitely!

Vahur: Nigel Farage, whom we have briefly discussed before, made a very interesting statement lately. Considering the electoral success of his Brexit Party and Theresa May’s abdication of power, he has demanded to have a seat behind the Brexit negotiation table. Is this going to happen?

Stefano: I see this as very unlikely. The fact that Nigel Farage has done very well in the European Election does not give him any official or formal role. When it comes to the British government, we also know that the nature of the EU elections and National elections is different. If this were a national election, there’s no way that Nigel Farage would have received even close to this proportion of votes. No way he would have gotten that proportion of MPs into the British Parliament vis a vis the European Parliament.

Vahur: That assumption will certainly be put to the test in the years to come.

Stefano: Yes. But let me put it this way. I am not denying that Farage and the Brexit Party could get some MPs into the British Parliament. But as a contrast, in the past national elections, there was only one UKIP member to be elected to the parliament, who also defected to the Conservative Party. Basically the British system is extremely stable with regards to the two-party system.

Vahur: Then again, something similar was said about France and their Social Democrats and Republicans received a fraction of the votes in recent elections.

Stefano: Yes, but there’s a problem. France has never been a true two-party system. It’s true that there have been exceptions to that, such as the coalition between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, but still, and I am ready to be contradicted on this, I don’t believe that Nigel Farage would be able to perform even to one fifth of his current success in the national elections. But of course, this can be checked after those elections. Now, will Farage be involved in Brexit discussions? The only option would be if Boris Johnson would become Prime Minister. He might, in an attempt to gain some folklore or to avoid losing votes to the Brexit Party, bring Nigel Farage  to the negotiations. Why? Because if you bring him to the negotiations, and those negotiations collapse, you can blame Nigel Farage.

Vahur: Interesting theory. You said that the Brexit Party would not be able to sustain its current level of support. What about the Liberal Democrats and Greens who also saw their support increase?

Stefano: The Liberal Democrats are more consolidated, but even then I don’t see them becoming one of the two major players.

Vahur: Since we have spoken for more than an hour, would you like to share any parting thoughts or something that we somehow missed

Stefano: I think we covered quite a lot.

Vahur: This has been extremely enjoyable. Thank you for your time.

Stefano: Thank you to you as well!

 

The text has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/15/majority-of-europeans-expect-end-of-eu-within-20-years

[2] https://www.ecfr.eu/article/despite_record_support_eu_voters_fear_collapse_of_political_framework

[3] Estonian MP Ruuben Kaalep has been a  prominent supporter of an Eastern European alliance of Intermarium in the past.

[4] Which denotes districts won by the Center Party.

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