Looking for EU Citizens !

For the first time ever, various potential majorities can shape political life in the next five years. In the small dynamic infography below you can navigate in the forecasts for the June 2024 elections for each Country and each EU political group.

This gives you a glimpe of how the European Parliament could look like next year. Our conclusion is clear: more that ever there are good reasons to have a truly European debate on what Europe should do, (and not do) in the next 5 years.

Tell us what is your priority !

It’s about time to have a debate on cars.

The future of cars is most probably one of the most concrete decision to be made by the European Union during this term. Yet, it has not generated a real pan-European debate until both the German Finance and Transport ministers triggered a controversy, and stopped the adoption process. It was five minutes to mighnight for the combustion engine.

In a way, it was about time to have a serious debate on this issue ! The term of the discussion is not that complicated – for once at EU level !

At this stage, the draft decision only bet on electric cars after 2035, setting a strict definition of zero emission vehicles, at car level, not taking into account the full energy cycle : the emissions to run and build the car are not included. Now the question is the following: should we keep also — together with Electric Cars — combustion engines as long as they are run with carbon neutral fuels.

This is the position defended by Germany and a group of countries, willing to keep combustion engine alive.

The Social Cimate Fund: A drop in the bucket of the Green Deal

Last week, the European Parliament adopted the European Social Fund with the ambition of “leaving no one behind”. This week, Member States are discussing it with some countries reluctant to increase it. But is the Social Fund enough to really leave no one behind in the fight against Climate change ? The response is clearly no. Since the presentation of this plan, we have assessed all the impact assessments presented by the European Commission related to the impact of the Green Deal on the “unavoidable expenditures” for European families: food, housing, transport & energy. We took the most optimistic scenarios, including an unrealistic 20% growth over the next decade. We excluded the impact of the war in Ukraine. But still, the results are clear: a Social Climate Fund at least 10 times bigger is needed in addition to a permanent integration of the most cost effective solutions. The new economic conditions make this need even more pressing. A “champagne” or elite only approach toward the transitions would lead to an economic and political deadlock, therefore also to an environmental impasse and no Green Deal at all. The full study can be read here.

Inequality and the destabilisation of social balances are a major threat to the European Union’s ability to successfully implement its Green Deal strategy. In order to meet this challenge and to carry out this transformation project, it is necessary to measure as precisely as possible the extent of the concrete impacts of the changes envisaged in everyday life. This analysis must inform the choices made to ensure that the Green Deal is a good deal for all.

Since the presentation of the major piece of regulations by the European Commission related to the Green Deal, we have assessed the impact assessment from the Commission itself, always taking the most optimistic scenarios. This research has shown that the cost of the technological alternatives chosen for a low-carbon Europe must be a constant concern for decision-makers to avoid leading the Green Deal into a dead end.

At this stage, an assessment of the choices underlying the main strategies presented by the European Commission shows that both the Fit for 55 package and the Farm to Fork strategy do not sufficiently integrate this issue and should be reviewed in the light of the social and inequality dimensions. Indeed, it is important to bear in mind that in the best case scenario (i.e. if growth continues), the poorest households in Poland will spend 100% of the new resources available to finance the Green Deal over the next ten years. In a very high potential growth scenario, 70% of their budget would remain a binding expenditure. For a large part of the population in Europe, and in particular in France, the share of constrained expenditure would increase considerably, at least by more than 10 points compared to the current situation, which raises questions about the degree of acceptability of the choices envisaged at this stage and their capacity to take society as a whole.

In two of the three cases studied, the additional annual costs would represent one time the French minimum wage (1600 euros), and twice the Polish one (1240 euros). In Spain the slightly lower annual costs (740 euros) are attributable to expected strong growth, as well as a series of favourable factors. In order to achieve the ambition of the Green Deal, which is currently supported by a large majority of citizens, and to maintain the level of support, the European Union must carry out a socially acceptable transition, i.e. one that is fair and therefore accessible to the greatest number of people. This transition must not only take place over a credible timeframe to allow for adaptations and investments, but must also be anchored in the reality of the economic principles of the proposed solutions.

At this stage, it appears that the technologies or options envisaged are elitist and do not correspond to the reality of a consumption structure within the reach of the greatest number, threatening the very success of the Green Deal or even its ability to become a reality, even though the scale of the climate challenge requires a successful trajectory for the Green Deal. The Social Climate Funds is certainly important be far from being the magic wand.

girl in yellow safety vest holding yellow helmet while standing on wooden pier beside yellow boats
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Climate transition cannot be a coin toss game

The European Parliament’s debacle on the climate & energy package on the 8 of June is more than just an accident. The rejection of the carbon market (ETS) by 340 votes to 265 is a rout, revealing a profound dysfunction in parliamentary work that threatens the credibility of the Green Deal as a whole. A serious self-examination of the elected representatives is urgently needed.

Rather than working hand in hand to find a common overall consistant position, the three main political groups – the EPP, Renew and the Socialists – have preferred posturing and have shown themselves incapable of establishing the minimum level of trust among them to build a broad majority, key to the democratic legitimacy of difficult choices.

Yet this legitimacy will be fundamental in the years to come. And it is not too late to change the course and engage in building a real majority beyond petty politics. The Green Deal will have concrete impacts on the Citizens’ daily lives : more expensive transport, more expensive food, higher housing and energy costs.

If today, political games prevail over building a shared vision, what will happen when decision-makers will have to assume the effects of their votes, which will inevitably create deep fragmentation within our societies? If everyone passes the quid, the Green Deal is bound to go off course the sooner or later.

Beyond the democratic stakes, the management of transitions in each of the sectors concerned requires great technical expertise, sector by sector: setting major objectives, posturing or accusing others of being in the hands of this or that lobby may help reaching the headlines, but, as the IPCC indirectly reminded us, this does not make for a successful transition. Hundred times in their last report, the experts remind us that the fight against climate change requires the management of compromises and synergies. When it comes to finding solutions, posturing is of little help.

Therefore, the game of a few, masters in the search for alternative majorities to impose their views to the detriment of a central and stable majority, playing with the Greens (who exclude themselves from the majority) for some or with the far right for others, could be seen as a natural political game in a forum marked by great diversity and a real and deep attachment to democracy. However, it is deleterious and, in the end, irresponsible.

To consider that a vote, important for the future of Europe, has been derailed by 6 divergent and tricky majority, opposing “progressives” and “conservatives” within the current majority of the Parliament, creates the conditions for a political deadlock rather than real leadership. This is tantamount to flipping a coin on the Green Deal, even though sincere work within the central, pro-European camp should be the rule in order to find a broad alliance that reflects the political diversity of the Parliament and the diversity of the countries that make it up, and which in many ways transcends the political groups. This would give the Parliament’s position in the negotiations with the Member States its credibility, and therefore its strength.

The Parliament’s vote on car emission standards is revealing. Rather than seeking a compromise with all the main political forces, the rapporteur for the dossier preferred to build an alternative and narrow majority, putting an end to internal combustion engines without incorporating the alternatives or flexibilities demanded by the ‘conservatives’, or listening to the concerns, particularly of the Central European countries.

Certainly, in the West part of the European Union and within the wealthy urban population, one can rejoice in this political victory for the climate through a strong symbol. But one can also wonder about the sustainability of such decisions, which are based on the marginalisation of entire sections of the hemicycle, with the frustrations and possible impasses that this entails for a large part of the population, the most fragile.

Bringing complexity to life in order to build compromises on a continental scale is the only possible way to build truly virtuous transitions and dynamics. The Parliament had succeeded in doing this, for example, by integrating gas into the complex equation of the energy transition two years ago. The Russian war has shattered this internal political balance in Europe. A new consensus is needed, much more complex to find. But if we do not manage to build shared political dynamics among Europeans, how can we hope to do so on a global scale and really think about changing the course of climate change?

Perhaps a detail for you…

On the 3rd of May, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that paves the way for a reform of the European voting system. This resolution is the result of a long process of discussion following the 2019 European elections, and the failure to appoint a “spizelkandidat” — the head of the group that won the elections — as head of the European Commission, a failure that deeply affected the leader of the EPP parliamentary group.
The European Parliament’s resolution aims to restore the predictability of appointments and to get away from the little deals among friends that always prevail in the European Council during the great mercato that takes place every five years. But, beyond the simple reform of the electoral code, the content of the European Parliament’s resolution could have a much wider scope and profoundly change the practice of the European institutions, in the direction of a democratic opening which would be most welcome.
Indeed, not only does the European Parliament suggest the creation of a single European electoral constituency and the introduction of a real European ballot, on the same day, the 9th of May all across Europe, with 28 MEPs drawn from transnational lists. But, moreover, it proposes the introduction of a coalition agreement negotiated between the partners of the parliamentary majority, which would be the compass for the European Commission in its mandate.
This last proposal would be a major step forward in the effort for a less technocratic Europe. To date, most of the European Commission’s working agenda is conceived, elaborated and scripted in-house, by the European Commission’s own services. The executive not only has exclusive legislative initiative, but also, in practice, assumes a large part of the political impetus being the only institution with real capacity to assume a leadership, even more with a divided European Council. Therefore, regardless of the outcome of the European elections, the European Commission continues to move forward on most issues, adjusting its orientations at the margins according to the pressure that can be exerted by the Member States – and therefore the European Council – more than by the newly elected parliamentarians.
Establishing a truly European ballot, with a limited but real space for elected representatives, truly in charge of the general European interest, represented through the European constituency, would be a real game-changer. For this to happen, the European political forces must be strengthen and be in a position to elaborate real programatic platforms of ideas ahead of the elections. Voters would cast their vote not only according to the head of the list, but also according to the content of this platform.
The coalition agreement that would emerge from the negotiations following the European elections, depending on the result of the elections, would be unavoidable, not only for the European Commission, but also for the European Council. The general European interest would be truly represented at the European level, and would be able to have a real democratic legitimacy to drive a political dynamic.
This new electoral rule does not require a modification of the Treaties. But fully implemented, it would undoubtedly be as impactful, offering the European institutions a real democratic breathing space.

A big gap between citizens & EU decisions

Some 70% of Europeans feel they have no say in decisions, laws and policies that affect the EU as a whole. This is the main finding of the latest Eurobarometer survey released by the European Parliament on the relationship between the EU and its citizens, as well as the public policy expectations of the European institution. 

In 12 EU Member States, there has been a decrease of at least three percentage points since November-December 2020 in the proportion of respondents who feel that their voice counts in the EU. The largest decreases are observed in Lithuania (25%, -12 PP), Romania (36%, -9 PP) and Latvia (15%, -8 PP). These recent figures reflect what was already apparent from this summer’s opinion survey, in which the majority of respondents felt that they have little or no say in important decisions, laws and policies that affect them. This same feeling increases with the distance from the sphere of governance under consideration. 

Big on big things, small on small things

The European Parliament presented its last rolling survey on EU Citizens expectations toward the European Union: what the top priorities should be? In the context on the COVID pandemic, health policy (42%) jumped from the fifth to the first place in the priorities, taking the top step on the podium to climate change (39%) which goes do to the third step, just after the fight against poverty and social exclusion (40%).

From Businesses to People

Photo de cottonbro sur Pexels.com

For many years, most of the European’s agenda has been “companies-oriented”. But time has changed. Since 2019, with the Green deal and the Digital agenda which are the flag-ship projects of the European Union, regulations are not only affecting the way products and services are delivered to the Europeans, but also having the ambition of changing the way of life, influencing the way they live and consume.

The future of our food, the way we move, the eco-conception of our houses and the way we consume in general is being designed at large scale by European institutions and will be decided in the coming year with hundreds of regulations.

This paradigm shift in the European agenda calls for a paradigm shift in the way European society is involved in the public debate. If EU regulations need 4 to 7 years to become tangible and effective at local level, we cannot afford EU citizens waking up in a few years realising those choices being made by the European Union are not their choices. People must be embarked in those decisions that will have major impact in their lives now.

The desire for Europe

Is the European Union the far and cold body often depicted with its long corridors, blue-grey meeting rooms with interpretation boots, formal speeches and boring lines to takes that fuel the administrative machinery every day ?

Probably yes, partly, but it is only up to us to make it a lively, people-centric place; to make sure that European politicians remain strongly rooted in the real life; to make sure that technocrats do not forget a basic fact: the life within international organisations does not reflect properly the challenge faced by most of the people across Europe. EU regulations are not designed for the EU bubble but for the 450 million people in their diversity.

With Voice of Europe we have a reasonable ambition: make sure that Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg where thousands of pages of regulations are drafted, impacting the daily life of Europe, are designed having in mind permanently one compass: the EU citizens. No conference, no long seminar or colloquium at the menu. Just exchanges formal and informal, around a table or a drink between citizens, politicians and decision-makers with always a multi-cultural dimension, a starting point – people’s expectations – and a principle – no preconceived idea.

Getting to know each others and acting together in the same direction are the first steps on the way to a common destiny as Europeans.

End of the world, end of months

The end of the world, and the end of months. These realities with all the antagonistic challenges going along should be at the core of the agenda of the European institutions. According to the last pan-European study designed for the European Parliament, EU citizens want the European Union to address as a priority the fight against climate change (43%), followed by measures to fight poverty and social exclusion (32%), measures to support the economy and create new jobs, and the fight against terrorism and organised crime (both 31%).