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 17.

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

    Except UKIP won't because they have promised not to turn up and vote on any EU issue. All they will do is take as much of our tax money (including British money) out of Brussels through pay and expenses and have a jolly. That was their official policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    It remains a mystery to me how any institution can be genuinely "job-creating" while insisting on bringing in third-world people who'll work longer hours for less money and worse working conditions. That means less money in the economy, and lower standards all round. Bonanza for the ultra-rich, though, which is why the EU sticks with this policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "Tuesday's informal dinner".

    This is what i object to. No doubt the expenditure for this "informal dinner" would have paid for a new rural school or community medical surgery. The EU for all its benefits, of which it has many, needs to shut off this ever gushing flow of waste, excess and extravegance

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Problem Britain has now is that for to long its been following the U.S around the world bombing countries and creating new enemies,without the protection of the E.U Britain will become the first target of the newly created enemies.Hence why Blair and his guilty conscious is telling us we can't have a referendum,he knows we will leave and become open to attack

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I agree with comment 6. The recent UKIP success (along with other European results) may work in Camerons favour as the case for renegotiation of EU relationships is at the forefront of minds all over Europe.

    Personally I hope never to see his smug pasty face again along with the strangely weird Millibands mug.

    I'll be voting UKIP come the General Election - the whole thing needs to change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Typical EU leaders blaming it all on the economy, that is just part of the pob. People are also very fed up with mass immigration and Brussels inteference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I was a big EU supporter for years as I hoped it would emerge as a strong independent voice that would stand up to US hegemony. But now I realise that the EU is just a tool of US foreign policy, albeit with more clout than individual states. The EU knew that the US orchestrated the coup in Kiev, but they applied sanctions against Russia anyway when Russia reacted to protect its interests. Pathetic

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    "UKIP’s result may just have saved Cameron because it will force change in Europe."

    Presumably you believe in the tooth fairy too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Easy is a funny way to describe war, but I get your point., The west could counter such a hostile posture.

    But you do realise how expensive it would be to counter that?

    Russia has energy to burn, low debt and a new best friend with loads of demand.

    Europe is going to break apart if the economic wagon is not fixed.

    Maybe it is not the best time to be beating chests and talking war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    hopefully none as the vast majority did not vote for eurosceptic parties?

    I thought that was how democracy worked =?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Absolutely none, they are so entrenched that at best they will agree that there is a problem. Then they will ignore it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    UKIP’s result may just have saved Cameron because it will force change in Europe. That change may appease conservatives and the population resulting in a better showing for them at the election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    A look at the so called election EU manifestos of Con & lab there is not a single word about vision, strategy, policy or agenda as to what will improve the EU or why.
    If they cannot clearly spell out what is intended for the future is it any wonder that no-one has a clue what they were being asked to vote for or can agree on.
    The most febrile abrogation of political leadership of all time?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    @1, yes, because Russia is really going to be inclined to engage in supporting terrorism in Europe. You realise how easy it would be for the West to counter that right? There's already thousands in Chechnya willing to do it, if they start getting Western arms and explosives in response to Russia doing the same in Eastern Europe then you might as well burn Moscow to the ground now. Don't be stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It's not just new policies people want, it's a totally different way of doing things, an end to spin and soundbite politics and especially to the "Yah-Boo!" of Westminster. An end to closed shop political parties run by an elite group and to for the system to be open and responsive to voter's real concerns

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Nothing will change, as our "leaders" are not interested in what the hapless voters think. They just want to maintain the status quo.

    How annoying it must be for them, that we keep voting "wrong".

    Ironic that career politicians can't recognise the fact that election outcomes are the whole point of democracy. There's no point in them pretending it doesn't matter, due to being a "protest vote".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    "Several leaders clearly believed that the Eurosceptic surge would fade as the economy improved and unemployment declined. "

    Well then, it must be a great pity that Russia is about to turn off the gas and most probably begin fighting low level operations in eastern Europe for the next twenty five years whilst being propped up by Chinese consumption.

    Strength to strength.


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