I don’t want to steal much of Andrew’s thunder because his previous post was simply fantastic, so I will (try) to keep my reflections about our visits to SHAPE brief and instead focus on the European Parliamentary elections, which occurred yesterday (25 May).
What an honor and a privilege it was to meet and discuss pertinent global security issues with General Breedlove, SACEUR, at SHAPE headquarters on Saturday, and a very special thanks to President Peterson and Georgia Tech for the wonderful reception following the briefing. What a once in a lifetime opportunity. As it has been in our security lectures, burden-sharing was among the most discussed topics with Gen. Breedlove and he offered us a unique perspective on the topic. His answers posed as an interesting juxtaposition to the answers we received at NATO Headquarters the previous week, which did not directly address some of the challenges facing the alliance. Not so from the General. He recognized the real problem and stated that due to the recent crisis in Ukraine, many member states have now pledged to increase their defense spending and get it up to that 2% of GDP mark that is required for a NATO member state. Additionally, the United States is taking measures to helping those states that simply can not devote that about to defense spending by advising them on how to spend more wisely. Thus, while the trip to NATO headquarters was a useful one, the General’s matter-of-fact answers provided a much greater level of detail and candor.
European parliamentary elections were held yesterday (25 May), and were advertised under the slogan, “This time, it’s different” in an effort to increase voter turnout. It is indeed different due to the Treaty of Lisbon going into effect in 2009, which, among other changes, called for a new process in the appointment of the President of the Commission. Essentially, when the Council of the European Union chooses the new President of the Commission they must take into account how the voting in the Parliament went, and the the Parliament can veto this choice if it is believed that it does not line with the vote. Since this is the first time this has ever occurred, what exactly will happen remains to be seen. If the Parliament vetoes the choice, there could be an uneasy stalemate and could give credence to the growing number of euroskeptics. Regardless, it is different this time because, in theory, the 500 million residents in the EU have a more direct say in who the next President of the Commission will be. Still, voter turnout only increased from 43% in 2009 to 43.11% in 2014, but had steadily declined until then. There does not appear to be the same amount of enthusiasm concerning the vote for EU institutions, but instead voters pay more attention to national elections. Concerning national elections, I have the incredible fortune of staying with a host family where the father happens to be a regional Belgian senator. I can say from conversations at the dinner table that very little of their time goes into the outcome of the EU elections. Furthermore, I asked my Polish friend who lives above me if she was voting in the EU elections, and she said that she had not even registered and when I pressed as to why she responded that she was not overly concerned with the outcome.
It is an interesting conundrum that the EU faces with these new changes, as the parties that are highly euroskeptic made great gains in the elections yesterday. How this new European government takes shape will be determined in the next few weeks and its effectiveness will be determined in the next few years.
You encapsulated General Breedlove and SHAPE’s initiative and leadership within the NATO command structure very well. As regards the election turnout, what’s your hunch as to why it’s so low? We see the same stuff back home in the US. Do you think there is a common threat to democracy in both places?