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Rebecca Harms on EU Elections: Negotiations and Compromises Required to Keep EU United
29 May, 2019
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At our request German politician and current MEP, Rebecca Harms shared her opinions on the future developments in the EU following the elections to the European Parliament. Her opinion piece is provided below exclusively for Hromadske.

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The elections to the European Parliament (EP) are over. The results differ from Member State to Member State. If you have a look at the political landscape after these elections, you can see that the European Union is not only culturally but also politically diverse. As politicians, we like to underline that we are united in diversity. The political landscape of the EU after the results of 2019`s European Parliament elections shows new diversity and challenges for the next legislature. Priorities of voters and their preferences for parties are so diverse that finding consensus on big issues might become more difficult.

For the first time in our European Parliament`s history, the European People’s Party (EPP) and Social Democrats (S&D) do not have an absolute majority anymore for building their grand coalition together. Fact is that this grand coalition has always been informal, but working efficiently in most years. It has guaranteed stability for the law-making processes based on compromises between at least the two big groups. Compromises were behind many progressive steps in the EU in many different fields. Even if I myself have considered them sometimes too weak, it is true that major achievements for the environment, climate, consumer protection and in recent years rules for the banking sector, defense and security were built on consensus and compromise in the EP. The agreement of the two big old European parties kept notably the Parliament functioning, but repeatedly also the EU in spite of the sometimes very difficult institutional relations.

Two days after the polling stations were closed EU heads of states and governments meet for an extraordinary summit in Brussels. At this informal summit, they are going to discuss the future leadership of the EU. The very big question is obviously, whether the Council will support the Spitzenkandidaten principle, as it had to after the 2014 elections because the EP stood firm. If they do so, this would mean that Manfred Weber, representing the rather conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) from German’s southern state of Bavaria, would be the first candidate, because the EPP has won most of the votes.

However, from the very beginning of the campaign, you could feel that the parties besides the German conservative parties CDU/CSU, in spite of favoring the principle of the Spitzenkandidat, they did not show any will to vote for Manfred Weber in case he wins most of the votes. Since Sunday, his competitor Frans Timmermans from the Social Democrats in the Netherlands suggests that he will easily be able to organize a majority in EP.

The liberal group (ALDE) sees that also their chances are getting better because the big groups cannot agree among themselves. ALDE is now hoping that the weakness of the results for the conservative and social democratic parties - especially in Germany and France - will strengthen the chances for their candidate and they are more and more pushing for Margarete Vestager from Denmark. My own group, the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) is being described as the possible king- or queenmaker. Yet, so far, the Greens are not outspoken about their real preferences.

The Liberals are now the third biggest group and the Greens come fourth. The Greens are in favor of the Spitzenkandidatenprinciple, but many are not prepared to make compromises. However, the bigger Green group will be challenged in the decision process for the leadership of the EU Commission and must find a way to deal with interests, power and the political program especially in the field of climate policy and sustainable development.

The election results and the negotiations are like a prologue for the difficulties of the beginning legislature. The priorities and preferences for the voters' decisions in our member states‘ societies are not only different, but are sometimes even contradicting each other. In some countries, green climate ambitions or more generous migration politics are pushed by the voters, while in other member states climate skeptic and anti-migration parties even get the majority - to name only one example for the asynchronicity.

The results of EP elections show that the new leadership of all the EU institutions must deal with those different expectations and wishes. Even if the Spitzenkandidaten made many people feel that the Commission’s president can rule the EU, this is not true. To keep the EU united will require an again strong commitment to its values and treaties, but again it also requires the ability to negotiate and compromise. The new leadership does not only need passion, but also patience and flexibility. Who will follow Jean-Claude Juncker? The battle over his post will be the first test for togetherness and compromise in Brussels in the EP and in the Council.

P.S. for Ukraine: Since I am leaving the European Parliament end of June I am very delighted that many of Ukraine’s true friends will be back in the European Parliament, among them are Jerzy Buzek, Petras Austrevicius, Michael Gahler or Sandra Kalniete. I see also among the newcomers some promising names for Ukraine like Sergey Lagodinsky, Viola von Cramon or Radosław Sikorski, and Andrius Kubilius.