As announced in yesterday’s post, the first plenary session at the 2014 UACES was meant to map the EU political landscape after this year’s European elections, nominations and appointments.
Trininty College emeritus Michael Marsh, (here a list of his publications on European elections and referenda) reviewed election results from the point of view of the parties’ losses or gains in comparison to general elections, a key aspect of what is known as the ‘second order’ model, i.e. the fact that in European elections voters tend to behave like in national mid-term or by-elections. The results confirm a wide variation between countries – so no EU-wide ‘earthquake’ – and some persisting features, such as the fact that large parties tend to loose more in European elections compared to general elections, regardless of whether they have been in government or not.
Indiana University’s John McCormick (author of Why Europe Matters) set the recent appointments against the whole picture of the current presidents of the 6 EU institutions (including the Central Bank and the often overlooked Courts). The picture is one of continuity rather than of dramatic change, certainly also in terms of age (the average is 58) and gender balance. He argued that rather than focusing on the expectations on the new leadership, EU scholars should address the long-term structural problems affecting the EU as a political community:
- a generalized public disaffection with political institutions (in his words a “loss of faith in government”). This operates at all levels and hits the US much more than the EU; this resonates well with the presentation by LSE’s Eri Bertsou, later in the day, on the technical, moral and subjective dimensions of citizens’ distrust of politics and its roots in politicians and institutions’ failure to meet expectations.
- the EU’s “identity crisis”: after more than 60 years, the exact nature of the EU project is not yet defined;
- a knowledge deficit: citizens still do not know enough about the EU – although this does not imply, as was pointed out in the debate, that more knowledge would trnnslate into more participation and support.
Former EP president (2002-2004) Pat Cox reconstructed the process that lead to the designation of candidates for Commission president by the major European parties. The political designation of Spitzenkandidaten lead them to be exposed to unprecedented public scrutiny in the 10 televised debates and on the campaign trail; however, Cox’s assessment is that the failure to reverse the decline in turnout still poses a legitimacy problem to the EP.
This writer’s impression from the plenary and the sessions is that 2014 did not mark a shift away from established trends, notably in election turnout, the ‘second order’ features of European elections, the growing but gradual politicisation of EU processes and the profiles of those appointed as a result. The scientific community present in Cork (and this is of course a totally unscientific generalization) seems to be in a wait-and-see attitude, and is at the same time busy exploring institutional options, assessing the role of the various actors, or making sense of what happened to European democracy during the crisis, as in the interesting presentations by Stijn Verhelst, Isabel Camisao and Giulia Pastorella which I attended later. All this interspersed with collective sighs of despair at the proliferation of EU myths such as the recent ‘vacuum cleaner ban‘ hype. Perhaps McCormick has a point in decrying the knowledge deficit after all…