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Friday, July 12, 2024

There is absolutely no room for resting on your laurels

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After the European elections, the balance of power in the parliament in Brussels moved to the right, but the decisive advantage remained in the hands of the moderate center. However, it is not known whether the extreme groups that received more seats will be able to unite and use this force. This may depend on the results of the elections in France or on the coalition abilities of the AfD. According to Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament, interviewed by Michał Sznajder, the European Union has a bumpy road ahead and a more difficult period in building consensus.

Michał Sznajder, TVN24 BiS: We are talking a few days after the European elections. What are your main conclusions and main thoughts?

Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament: There was a lot of talk about this shift to the right. If you add all the far right forces together in the European Parliament, they make up just under a quarter of all the seats, so one of the conclusions for me, what I bring to people's attention, is the remaining three quarters. We must not say that this quarter is 100 percent in our perspective. From this, I would go on to say that what remains in Parliament is what I would call a very classical, European center, differentiated in right-left-center politics, which should be able to establish a parliamentary majority on key issues. I expect that the right may seek to unite, more than it has been united in the past. It is very diverse and internally divided. The fact that they are on the right is a key ideological similarity, but there are many things that differentiate them, so we will see how coherent this new right will be. And then there are things in it that we need to look at, for example, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Fratelli d'Italia party – they were very successful because they won 14 more seats in Parliament, but her government partner – Matteo Salvini – these 14 seats lost, so in a sense it is a political shift at the Italian level, but not necessarily at the level of the Italian part in the European Parliament.

I think that another element that is very often leading with more right-wing parties in government that are emerging, that are participating at the level of the European Council, will be appointing European commissioners, so there is no doubt that there will be, I think, a slightly more difficult period in building consensus and finding the chemistry, the agreement for the necessary compromises that make the European Union work. My impression after all this is basically this: it's good, but from the point of view of the way forward, I would still wear a seat belt.

Pat Cox: I expect the right may seek to unite, more united than it has been in the past

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Michał Sznajder: You are rightly talking about this one Thursday versus three quarters. On the other hand, one could say that the success of the right wing in France led to the elections. We will have another government potentially in France. The AfD in Germany, the second largest force, so we are either already witnessing or will only see the results of this improvement in support for the right, or we may see signs of what is yet to come. We are talking here about Paris, about Berlin, we are talking about the local motives of the European Union. How would you look at it from this perspective?

Pat Cox: First of all, there is absolutely no room for resting on your laurels. As I look at it from Germany's point of view, the AfD is currently an anti-establishment protest party from the former GDR, which shows us that there is still something unfinished in the matter of German reunification. This is also a party that is radically different from how it started, and it started with a few professors who were dissatisfied with a number of things around the European zone and the euro zone, but it has turned into something completely different. Please pay attention to this. Yes, they have second place, but first is CDU/CSU and Friedrich Merz who will probably be a little stronger at the moment. At least for the rest of his term, Scholz will have a little harder time.

In France it is significant, but it is not something that happened overnight. This is the rise to power of Rassemblement national, Marine Le Pen's party, which is making steady progress in the presidential and other elections in France. It seems to me that the stakes that President Macron has placed, because it is a kind of gamble, are quite risky. It is quite possible that he will have to spend the last three years of his presidency in what the French call cohabitation. He will have to somehow cohabitate with the right wing. They may, of course, believe that if they come to power, it will show itself, that simple solutions do not always work in complex issues, and that they will not do so well in future presidential elections. I think it's too early to judge.

If I could increase the perspective, I think that there are other trends that are much broader in scope and that sometimes we internalize our focus so much on the EU that we forget to look at the rest of the world. What we're seeing in the U.S. presidential election is no different, perhaps even more stark, than some of the things we're seeing in continental Europe. It turns out that we have something in the broader zeitgeist that is taking place here, where polarization in the US is starting to be a manifestation of the same anti-system, anti-elite approaches with a strong man at the head. This works by fueling division, not unity. This works by looking at the issues that create fear in the electorate, by being willing to discredit those fears, and by finding enemies. Populism needs an enemy. An enemy, preferably external, for example China for the US, the European Union for populists in Europe, but also an enemy within. The media is the enemy because they tell the truth. Then they are dishonest media. Civil society, which is the enemy because maybe it is externally financed, so it is an agent. The prosecutor's office and the judicial system must also serve only the political interest of the government, and not the interest of justice or the common good. These are popular phenomena. Such a strong-arm policy was quite visible in Europe in the 20th century.

I think from this broader perspective, as time marches on, we are forgetting some of the important lessons of the 20th century in Europe – the rise of fascism and nationalism, the identity politics that have taken us to places we would rather not be. again. The Union was one of the answers to avoiding a repeat of the game, and that's why I'm very committed to its core values.

"We are forgetting some of the important lessons of the 20th century in Europe"

'We are forgetting some of the important lessons of the 20th century in Europe'Facts about the World TVN24 BiS

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Michał Sznajder: My last question, what are your thoughts? You talk about commitment. How do you perceive and predict the West's involvement in the Ukrainian issue? You have been there quite often recently, you know Ukrainians, you know the people there fighting for their country. Those who are trying to rebuild it after Russian crimes. Can Ukraine still count on the West? Can Poland count on the West if the worst were to happen?

Pat Cox: I think the answer to this question is: so far so good, but we'll see what happens next. I was very disappointed that when the Americans did the right thing, they did it for so long. The inability to respond to President Joe Biden's six-month initiative to give more money for military aid to Ukraine also encouraged Putin to continue his savage attacks on Kharkiv. I'm glad to see that this matter has been resolved. The Ukrainians are counterattacking, the Russian offensive has slowed down and I'm glad they got the opportunity to fight the enemy on his territory, which also took some time.

What I'm afraid of, to be honest, is the doctrine of Donald Trump, who doesn't care about Ukraine at all and it looks like he could let Putin do whatever he wants. It is unclear how the political issue will develop in America. Perhaps it will be difficult for places like Ukraine or Europe to rebuild this transatlantic solidarity. It seems to me that these will be very important elections and I have my fears that if Trump wins, the transatlantic space will weaken and I think that then Europeans will have to get used to it and be stronger.

The entire conversation between Michał Sznajder and Pat Cox

The entire conversation between Michał Sznajder and Pat CoxMichał Sznajder/Fakty o Świecie TVN24 BiS

Author:Michał Sznajder

Facts about the World TVN24 BiS

Main photo source: TVN24 BiS

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