Tuesday 10. December 2019

A chance for Europe

Looking back, the most encouraging outcome of the European elections held between 23 and 26 May 2019 is the substantial increase in voter participation. At 51.8 per cent it is 8 percentage points higher than five years ago.

Compared with the continuous decline since the first European Parliament elections in 1979, this represents a turning point. It means that more than half of the 426 million people entitled to vote expressed the fact that they consider EU politics to be important, and that they care about the future of the EU.

 

This mobilisation is not least the fruit of numerous statements and events in the run-up to the elections – including from the churches. The COMECE bishops issued a joint declaration in February urging people to vote, in order to have their say in the make-up of Europe. On 10 April 2019, a public debate on the most pressing issues and political challenges took place in the Chapel for Europe in Brussels between eight church organisations active in the field of social justice, the Green MEP Klaus Buchner and Andreas Schwab from the European People’s Party.

 

The second welcome outcome of the elections was that the forces hostile to the EU increased less markedly than the polls before the elections indicated. But the right-wing nationalist and populist parties nevertheless gained an increase of 21 representatives, giving them a total of 114 seats. In addition to these were the 58 seats held by the Eurosceptic “European Conservatives and Reformists” group.

 

A third outcome with far-reaching consequences is that the European People’s Party and the Social Democrats lost their absolute majority in the Parliament, the result of a decline among the traditional people’s parties in most European countries. In future, majorities will only be possible with the cooperation of the Liberals and the Greens, necessitating a broader agreement on political factual issues.

 

The growth of the Greens highlights the importance of ecological issues and the dangers of the climate emergency in the minds of voters. On the 4th anniversary of the papal encyclical Laudato sí, the President of COMECE, Jean-Claude Hollerich, demanded rapid, comprehensive measures to combat climate change, and expressed solidarity with the young people’s “Fridays for future” movement.

 

Even now, four years after its publication, the core message of the encyclical Laudato sí is as urgently relevant as ever. Humans are currently destroying the basis of their own existence and that of future generations. But there is still the possibility that things can be reversed in an ecological and social turnaround – all that is lacking is the political will. Decisions made in the next few years will be critical for the long-term fate of humankind. Europe cannot meet the global challenges of lethal climate change, migration and worldwide justice alone, but it can be a trailblazer and a model for the politics of a sustainable world order.

 

The former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta encapsulated the election as follows: “The voters have given Europe a chance.” Now it is down to the newly constituted European Parliament and the new Commission to use this chance to ensure ecological sustainability and social justice in politics.

 

Martin Maier SJ,

JESC

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