Europe has voted. Is a new era about to commence or will everything remain the same in Brussels? We spoke with Christian Kastrop, director of our Europe's Future program, about the outcome of the European Parliament elections.
An electorate of more than 400 million people went to the polls in 28 countries over four days. What are the main takeaways?
Christian Kastrop: The most significant news from Sunday evening is: the European heart continues to beat loudly and passionately – and not just in Brussels, but in all member states, from Ireland to Cyprus . Voter turnout in Germany rose from 48 to over 60 percent. Across Europe the results are expected to be about 50 percent, which means almost one person in two voted.
The evening's second piece of news: The majority voted for pro-European parties. Regardless of whether Europe's political heart beats on the right or the left, the new European Parliament will clearly be led by pro-Europeans who will not always be of the same opinion, but who will be committed to a united and strong Europe.
As a result, the elections for the ninth European Parliament were a celebration of pro-European democracy. I therefore hope that Europe's voice will be heard more loudly and clearly in the world in the next five years. If that is to happen more successfully than in the past, Europe must focus on the essential issues. It doesn't always have to regulate more things; it has to apply its competencies more efficiently where they are needed.
Looking at the UK and France, it is clear that the EU's opponents have hardly been voted out of office. How does that fit into the larger picture?
Fortunately, this time we witnessed a European debate that, for the first time, did not focus so much on bickering over national politics, but on truly European issues: climate protection, digitalization, an inclusive single market, European border policy – all EU topics.
In the UK and France, however, mostly anti-Europeans gained strength, albeit after campaigns that were heavily influenced by national issues. Frustration about the Brexit votes in the House of Commons and the so-called yellow vests were decisive issues here which mobilized protest voters, among other things. Yet as the distribution of seats in the new European Parliament readily shows: Parties that are working to further develop the EU in a constructive manner are clearly in the majority.
Europeans have voted. Will national states once again be taking control in the back room? Who will be the next European Commission president and who could lead Parliament as president?
The European Parliament currently has more expertise at its command than ever before. That can be seen in the fact that there is an unofficial European top candidate even though there are no European party lists.
One thing is clear: No head of government can appoint a new Commission against the will of Parliament. At the same time, despite all the criticism of democratic shortcomings in Brussels, we shouldn't forget how ministerial posts are frequently handed out in Berlin. No one asks the Bundestag for permission. The party leaders agree among themselves who will serve in which position.
If the idea of a top candidate in Europe is to gain traction over the long term then we need transnational party lists, among other things, so that all Europeans can vote directly about whether they prefer a Manfred Weber, for example, or a Frans Timmermans.
I believe the outcome of this election is an encouraging sign that Parliament and the heads of government will agree on solid, constructive candidates for the top posts in Brussels. The main thing now is implementing the pro-European results and anchoring Europe more firmly among its citizens as a key player.
The interview was conducted by Benjamin Stappenbeck.