This week was significantly different from the last two because the focus of our coursework shifted from security aspects of the EU and NATO to the institutions of the EU. We could not have chosen a better time to come to study the EU, as we have the opportunity to live through the historic elections and explore the real effects of the changes to these institutions that have occurred since the Treaty of Lisbon. Most notably, in this round of elections, Europe has seen the rise of the “far right;” some parties that wish to see the demise of the EU all together, like the National Front, and some that simply wish to withdraw their country from the EU, like the UK Independence Party (UKIP). In our first class of the week, we had a guest lecturer who helped us with the breakdown of the results of the elections. She told us that for the first time ever, it is possible that there will be a formation of a far right political group within the European Parliament. She also, however, expressed doubt that many of the far right groups from different countries could work together to the end of actually forming a new group. Nonetheless, it seems that Marine le Pen, the French leader of the National Front political party, has already gathered five countries, including her own France, to the cause of, “blocking any moves to increase European Federalism,” according to the Irish Times. Le Pen rejected an alliance with UKIP, but she only needs two more countries to join her cause in order to form a new political group.
Looking at the results of the elections, it seems that for the first time in many years, there was an up turn in voter turn out. However slight, this does seem to be a good sign for the future of the EU. However, the votes reveal that a good amount of the people that came out to vote were anti-EU or at least unhappy with the way things had been turning out in the EU for the past couple of years. Our guest lecturer put this down to a couple of reasons, the main being that there is a certain disconnect between the EU as an institution, and the people that it governs. Many people within the EU don’t see their interests particularly represented in Parliament, and this is especially true in the much smaller countries. For instance, Luxembourg, a founding member of the European Union, has the same amount of votes as one of the newest and smallest members states, Malta. These small countries find it very hard to have their voices heard among relative giant states including the likes of France or Germany. Because they have so few votes, they are the ones that must concede more of their interests to the larger states’ interests in order to come to a compromise on many policies. It is thus more difficult to find support in these countries, as can be seen by the extremely low voter turn out (only 19% in Czech Republic and a resounding 13% in Slovakia).
In addition to looking at the elections, we visited the EEAS and CEPS. The EEAS is a very new institution of the EU, and as such has much more growing to do. We listened to three briefings, one on EU-US relations, one on TTIP, and one on Cyber Security. These were very interesting, and since all touched on their opinions of TTIP, it was that subject that was most easy for me to compare and contrast. I don’t know if it was because we were actually at the EEAS, but none of the speakers we had could even court the idea that TTIP was unpopular and wouldn’t go through. One even said that there is simply no way it could not go through; it is just too big and too important to fail. This is all very interesting considering that from what I’ve heard from various outside perspectives, including my host family, is that TTIP is pretty unpopular with the people of Europe. What is even more interesting, is that one of the speakers we had at the visit after the official one at the EEAS, gave us his candid opinion that there really is a huge gap between what the people think of TTIP, and what the EEAS thinks of the agreement, and that there is a possibility of failure there. In any event, it is important that we have both of these views so that we can come up with our own opinion on the matter without being too biased for one way or the other.