EU elections: The European malaise

French President Francois Hollande After a shock result President Hollande is not arguing now for "more Europe"

Europe's leaders gathered in Brussels knowing that there had been a huge protest vote against the European establishment.

The number of MEPs from Eurosceptic parties had doubled.

The election result has sapped confidence. That was apparent when they met for Tuesday's informal dinner. Most of the leaders gave rather cautious and coded comments. They were men and women who had lost some of their certainty.

David Cameron arrived early with a prepared soundbite that Brussels had become "too big, too bossy and too interfering". He had his allies: the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said he thought the answer lay in "fewer rules and less fuss from Europe and for Europe to focus on where it can add value".

More surprisingly, there was a similar tone from the French President Francois Hollande, who said the EU should "concentrate more on its priorities, show more efficiency where it is needed and not to add things where it is unnecessary".

Hopes for recovery

Such expressions are the easy part. Other leaders are wary of calls for "less Europe". In any event it will be very difficult to rein in Brussels. France is firmly against treaty change. The Elysee Palace believes it is a matter of "reorganising working methods and approach".

EU's post-election agenda

  • Measures to revive growth and create jobs - but Germany insists on budget discipline
  • Integrate eurozone more, while keeping other EU members close too
  • Establish full EU banking union, with centralised supervision
  • Push towards common energy policy and reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas
  • Reassess balance of powers between EU and national authorities

If David Cameron is to sell to the British public a new relationship with a reformed union he will need much more concrete change than that.

But the dominant mood was that the answers lay in rediscovering growth in the economy.

Several leaders clearly believed that the Eurosceptic surge would fade as the economy improved and unemployment declined. That is the view of the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, President Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

They are divided, however, over how to revive the eurozone economy, with its tepid growth.

"How we generate growth," said Angela Merkel, "there are differences of opinion".

Many leaders would like to see targets for reducing their deficits relaxed, and are looking to next month's European Central Bank meeting to cut interest rates and boost funds for the banks. But the Germans still believe that budgetary discipline and structural reforms (labour market flexibility) are the road to economic growth and stability.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Chancellor Merkel is not committing herself to her party group's top candidate Jean-Claude Juncker
Key EU job

These underlying tensions were also apparent over the issue of who should get Europe's top job, President of the European Commission. It was curious to see the attention given to this at the late-night news conferences, when top jobs probably had little or no impact on the way people voted.

The frontrunner to become Commission president is the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. Why? Because he was the candidate of the grouping which gained the most seats in the European Parliament.

Many of Europe's leaders, however, believe it is their right to nominate a candidate, taking into account the results of the elections. In part this is a turf war between a newly assertive parliament and the heads of government.

David Cameron has led the charge against Jean-Claude Juncker. He believes that he is a classic Brussels insider, committed to further integration. He is not the kind of figure that the prime minister wants to see as chief executive in Brussels, at a time he could be trying to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU. David Cameron has some allies including the Swedish, Dutch and Hungarians.

Too much horse-trading?

Crucially Mr Juncker is the candidate of the EPP, Angela Merkel's grouping. At the end of the dinner she appeared to weaken her support for her candidate. She recognised he might not end up with the top job and she appeared disinclined to oppose David Cameron. It was important, she said, "to preserve the good working atmosphere of the European Council of EU leaders in times of crisis".

Weeks of meetings, deal-makings and arguments lie ahead. The danger for the EU is that an institutional fight over top jobs becomes yet another example of the inward-looking culture of Brussels.

The word "change" was very much on people's lips. But how to deliver a more efficient, less intrusive Commission and how to deliver a more dynamic job-creating economy will be a long and difficult process.

Meanwhile the Eurosceptics and anti-establishment parties have a platform from inside the parliament to shake the institution from within.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    Crucially Mr Juncker is the candidate of the EPP, Angela Merkel's grouping. At the end of the dinner she appeared to weaken her support for her candidate. She recognised he might not end up with the top job


    and Tony Blair has now re-appeared on our screens as the stalking horse candidate

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    #495 Liberate

    " well guess what guys a lot of people do not want any Europe at all now and they know where they want you to insert it."

    --with the UK having no positive movement --I would be careful with such suggestions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    Yes, after all the Major Parties in Europe had been gut punched they have now picked themselves up and dusted themselves down and are retorting with the usual "business as usual rhetoric". They come out with "we want more Europe", well guess what guys a lot of people do not want any Europe at all now and they know where they want you to insert it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    493 QOT

    "Talking about Marcus"

    Was he banned again? I almost miss him and his hilarious take on world history and America in particular.

    Off to bed now - it's been a busy day! (thanks for your endorsement the other day)

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    #492 MH

    Talking about Marcus-- Siearlu appears also to have a 6 month Sabbatical from his ´company´

    --If he does not return, we can expect a similar substitute within the next few months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    490 QOT

    I'm sure it would be - or will be if the vote goes the right way -:)

    Incidentally talking of philosopher kings, my all time favourite man in history is Marcus Aurelius - Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor and his Meditations among my favourite books

    We seem to have wasted the last 2 000 years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    With Scotland´s oil and its Edinburgh´s financial center -- Scotland would probably be an EU ´contributor´

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    #489 MH

    I am sure that Scotland would be a better EU member than the UK has ever been.

    - It wouldn´t take much-- looking at the previous 40 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    475 Skylark

    "There are 9 Net Payers in the EU of which we are the 2nd highest"

    Not 2nd highest but 6th per head of population

    482 Joe

    "and is still an unwelcome guest at the feast"

    The reason is that it has its feet in two camps ultimately preferring its role as America's friend (stooge) to commitment to Europe

    "Britain has no friends only interests"


  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    #487 JayTime

    "Our ancestors repeatedly stood up to European oppression, "

    --also to your own --and failed miserably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Our ancestors repeatedly stood up to European oppression, why aren't we?

    The political class have truly divided and conquered the country, and no one has the will to do anything about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    #482 Joe

    "If Britain were governed by a benevolent dictator, or a group of philosopher kings, it seems unlikely ..."

    Germany has had the ´advantage´ of its society being ´mixed up´ after WWI and WWII --Britain has not. They could (and did) choose another direction from Monarchy.

    The system in Britain can never be ´Philosopher King´or similar --the strict structural rules are centuries old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    I listened to the 1300 news on France Inter, their nearest equivalent of R4.

    In 30 minutes, there was no mention of Front National.

    What a refreshing change from the BBC, with its wall-to-wall showcasing of The Dimpled Mug.

    I read UKIP want to abolish inheritance tax. Since over 70% of the land in the UK still belongs to the heirs of the same 200 or so who've had it since 1066, why bother?

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    The soul searching should focus on successfully answering the question "what is democracy?" from the EU to Westminster to unitary councils, their answer is how can decisions be taken without those affected taking part.

    Decisions taken by those with "no dog in the fight", might look smoother but a consequence is the rise in UKIP, SNP et al.

    Governments must serve the people, not vice versa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    #482 Joe

    Sorry --I thought you wished to discuss on a ´more philosophical´ level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    I can't really agree with you quietoaktree, 480. It seems to me that Germany has always exercised huge control over the EU machinery. It's hardly in the same position as Britain, for whom entry was denied twice by General de Gaulle, and is still an unwelcome guest at the feast, while being one of the biggest contributors. The UK has not stood up for itself or others in the EU - a big mistake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    before people slag UKIP off remember labour..the party that gave us bliar the iraq war mass immigration and mr boom and bust..UKIP doesnt need lectures from a war criminal like blair.that bloke should be tried for treason hes a disgrace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    #479 Joe

    " If Britain were governed by a benevolent dictator, or a group of philosopher kings, it seems unlikely ..."

    --difficult to say --hypothetical.

    What is clear, is that Germany has (had?) its ´Sozialmarktwirtschaft `(Social Capitalism) system that is successful --and still willingly gave up powers to the EU machinery.

    Until recently, the citizens never questioned the expense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    Today, 'The Independent' carried an article by an academic asking if democracy is flawed, as it has bestowed so many votes upon Nigel Farage and other so-called far right parties. The author has a point, though. If Britain were governed by a benevolent dictator, or a group of philosopher kings, it seems unlikely that they would have judged it wise to offer up their powers to the EU machinery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    Exports - Imports = Trade balance. So if you can't export more and you continue to import then this is what happens. Economic EU malaise and social stress. Since there is no reciprocity coming from China or India then policy towards them should be rather obvious. However that means burning a few of those with sticky fingers in the poisened pie that we are being served.


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