On May 22, days before the European elections, Bill Wirtz, a regular contributor of Values4Europe, visited Vienna and sat down with Kai Weiss to discuss what could happen from May 23 to 26, when Europeans will be heading to the voting booth.
At the forefront of the discussion was quickly the potential rise of right-wing forces. “More than a third of the MEPs could be skeptical of the European Union,” noted Wirtz. “It will be interesting to see what they actually want the EU to look like when they soon have more of a say.” Currently, it is projected that Euroskeptic forces could accumulate up to 250 seats in the new Parliament, most notably with 28 from the Brexit Party, 25 from Lega, 22 from PiS, and 21 from the National Rally in France. Nonetheless, it would be too easy to see these forces as merely anti-EU. “15 years ago, Brussels thought Euroskeptics are dangerous because they want to leave the EU, now they are dangerous, because they want to stay and reform the EU to their liking.”
Losing out from these developments could be the traditional forces around the European People’s Party and the Socialists & Democrats. Predictions show that the “Grand Coalition” of these two centrist party families will lose their majorities. This could put one specific individual in an important position: French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s En Marche, running under the name of the Rennaissance on the European level, could be the kingmaker by handing the two main forces the majority. Nonetheless, Wirtz thought that Macron should not overestimate his position too much. “Macron also tried to reform his own country, but now half of it is burning down.” It might be better for him then to focus on his own country first: “There is a certain tendency among French politicians that they think they can reform entire Europe after having failed to reform their own country.”
Of particular interest for the young audience was Brexit and the UK’s position in the elections. The Brexit Party leads by a wide margin in the polls, followed by the Liberal Democrats, not Labour and the Conservatives. While this can be seen as a mere protest vote for the moment, Wirtz argued that this disruption of the UK party system could translate into general elections as well if the Tories don’t follow through with Brexit.
With the UK leaving possibly at some point, the question is whether they will be replaced by someone as the rebel to the Franco-German engine of more integration. But while some countries have become a louder voice for an EU based on free-trade ideas ever since the Brexit vote in 2016 - most notably the alliance of the “Hanseatic League 2.0” of Northern and Baltic countries around Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte - there is little chance, Wirtz thinks, that they can actually stay united. He instead thinks the alliance would sooner or later fall apart due to political interests.
Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for the next years will be digitalization, in Wirtz’s opinion. Europe should become a continent that is welcoming to innovations and create an environment for entrepreneurs to be successful, rather than penalizing them or introducing new levies such as the heavily discussed digital tax. Despite the potentials in the digital arena, Wirtz noted that he still thinks the EU will not focus on these topics, but instead will potentially make it harder to do business on the continent.
This is merely another sign for him that it is not so clear whether the EU can actually still be reformed. From a current point of view, it looks as though the EU will continue on the path to the “ever closer union.” The European elections will, despite a rise of skeptical voices, not change much about that.
View the full interview on Youtube: