The High Stakes of the 2019 European Elections Heat Up
Guest post Felipe Cuello
Every legislature in the world has one primary duty around which its other lawgiving functions revolve: The power of the purse.
Whatever hare-brained schemes any executive comes up with are limited, by design, by the directly elected representatives of the people. Funding an initiative is in a sense more powerful than its passing into law – without the money to enforce its will, the resolution amounts simply to an expression of sympathy with whatever cause it purports to advance. nothing more.
There is one legislature that is an exception to this rule: The European Parliament.
Stripped of legislative initiative, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are not allowed to propose their own bills, much less a spending commitment. As the only democratically elected organ of the EU, this is, on its own, a travesty, buttressing the democratic deficit evident at all levels of EU policymaking. The European Union’s Budget, a modest 150 billion euros yearly, is decided on a 7-year basis, after being proposed by the European Commission, not its Parliament.
An executive that proposes it’s own budget?
To make matters worse, look to the circumstances playing out in Brussels these very days: President Juncker’s Commission (the EU’s executive branch) set forth its proposal in May. While this budget still has to make it through the European Council of finance ministers as well as a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, there are many reasons to wish for its failure as a bill.
The first baffling conclusion to draw from this state of things is the lack of any reduction in spending despite the exit of one of the EU’s richest members: The UK’s contribution to the EU budget is substantial and will no longer be forthcoming after the end of the transition period following Britain’s exit next May.
More importantly, there is only one serious consequence of a European Parliament election: the incoming parliament’s subsequent selection of the President of the Commission. President Juncker isn’t running for re-election, throwing the race wide open to all comers.
The ruling European People’s Party (EPP) – who’s main member is Angela Merkel’s CDU – is not guaranteed re-election, especially given the collapse of their Socialist (S&D) coalition partners all over Europe. Why, then, should President Juncker’s lame-duck presidency get to decide something so important as the budget for the whole next legislative term?
This is nonsense.
Anti-democratic behavior of this stripe should not be condoned. Thankfully, the mechanisms to block this are still available. Ideally, the European Parliament itself could unite in striking down this proposal and refuse to pass any budget until after the election, asserting its democratic role to decide which policies to conduct with which money.
More likely, however, would be a blocking vote in the European Council of Finance ministers, which also has to sign off on President Juncker’s Proposal – unanimously. A single national government, be it tiny Malta or mighty Germany, can unilaterally vote down the budget.
The race is on: political dividends will surely accrue to whomever blocks it first. The various eastern European countries that face sanctions from Brussels in that budget might be a good bet – Poland, Hungary, even Austria are all arguably in violation of various EU human rights mandates which can only be weaponized against them if this budget goes through. Whether this is too shrewd a move remains to be seen.
Macron’s LREM – which still lacks a party in Strasbourg – has already come out saying they want to vote on it after the May 2019 elections. Given that they currently have no representation in the European Parliament, this should surprise no one, but it’s also a shrewd political move:
Marine Le Pen leads the ENF group and polls strongly in France, especially on EU issues – to offer her an election where centrists once again ask the people to turn out for a plebiscite where everything has already been decided is suicidal. The stakes are set, the potential coalitions in sight. All that remains is for the first country to take the plunge.
Who will it be? Italy populist government would make hay and move its cause by stepping up right now!