United Europe — a vote in severe doubt

Here is my take on European elections:

“From the Baltic to the Balearics, the European elections reveal a continent unhappy with its lot,” wrote the Guardian in its editorial, after the election results for the European Parliament poured in, shaking and rattling the continent.

“The malcontent mood elsewhere was expressed through the chauvinism of Marine Le Pen in France, the solidaristic rhetoric of Alexis Tsipras in Greece, and the British bar-room nostalgia of Nigel Farage. Grumbles about immigration and stagnation abound, and yet the far right came out ahead in Denmark, with moderate unemployment, while Sinn Féin is resurgent in Ireland, where emigration is a bigger issue than new arrivals.

“The elections supplied what used to be called a Kodak moment, freezing a picture of European politics and exposing how what started as a banking disaster five years ago, then developed into a financial, debt and currency emergency, has come to roost as a political crisis, testing the competence of and confidence in European leadership,” commented Ian Traynor, a colleague with the Guardian based in Brussels.

The results, displaying a growing choice, overall, for parties at the periphery of politics, come as yet another blow — perhaps a louder warning signal — that the crisis with the liberal economies needs a bolder analysis.

The past five years or so showed the European leaders that there is a widening gap between very mechanics of the EU institutions and what 350 million voters in 28 countries expect of the project. Sharp austerity measures and unemployment have had a backlash and are interlaced with the anti-immigration sentiments and Islamophobia.

In the big picture, there is reason for both concern and hope. France is showing a social convulsion, with the right-left centerfield leaving immense room for archaic nation-state pursuits through the Front National, which will need to be analyzed meticulously in the context of the EU’s future. Danes, on their side of the continent, boosted the DPP, a far-right movement that does well with voters, with a historically high election outcome (27 percent), doubling its MEPs. The choice has shown a peculiar sense of selfishness at that end for closing the borders more to immigrants, less tolerance to “other” cultures and creeds and diminished willingness for EU cooperation.

But, the south has proven to be more solution-oriented. Most suffering under the financial ordeal, four of the six countries on the southern strip endorsed the center left, or socialists, as a path out of hardship, through solidarity within. Italy, Spain and Portugal have thereby cemented the center in that sense, as Greeks went on to push anti-bailout, anti-corruption Syriza upwards.

The relative rise of Europopulism in all different formats has been largely misinterpreted among Turkish pundits. True, of the 751 seats, about a hundred now do belong to anti-EU, Euroskeptic, Islamophobic and nationalist parties, but most of the analysts here, having had sporadic interest for the inner workings and complex layers of the EU, were quick to declare the beginning of the end for the union.

Many of them, blinded by the euphoria colored by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rhetoric, show willingness to steer away even further from the membership perspective. A point missed grossly over here is the fact that, although narrowed down, the European center still holds ground: Almost 45 percent of the vote went once more to the traditional parties. This means, business as usual, but under harder conditions and with larger margins for consensus.

Another point missed by power-eclipsed, pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) columnists is that the Turkish-EU negotiations are kept under “intensive care,” with a momentum lost, and opportunities more remote than ever.  While the EU suffers a crisis of joint governance and lack of decisive leadership, Turkey under Erdoğan has shown its reactionary side, with a resistant political culture, fed by an autocratic drive — choosing fierce confrontation with Brussels over cooperation. It is very unfortunate that Erdoğan’s visit to Cologne, laden with an utterly populist, anti-German, pompous but empty rhetoric, coincided with the EP elections, merely exposing the huge gap between Ankara and the Copenhagen criteria. Both sides seem to have lost each other, perhaps for good.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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