“How did we vote? Did we actually vote – or did the Volk simply roll the dice?”
Niklas Luhmann‘s sarcasm in the FAZ on October 22nd 1994 referred to the Bundestag elections of that same year. Back then, the black/yellow coalition narrowly won out over its red/green counterpart. Luhmann’s commentary is not only a pleasurable read – it also contains an analysis of surprising relevance for the electoral outcome of the 2014 European elections. Luhmann argued that the differences between the two coalition blocs were minimal. One reason for this was the fact that “politicians are no longer able to support political alternatives according to their preferences, due to constraints set by our economic system”. Fundamentally, this is not much different in contemporary Europe. Certainly the party landscape is larger, more diverse and more awkward than in Germany in 1994. However, even in this contested context, no party has a promising alternative when dealing for instance with the financial markets.
What was this most recent election about? One very prominent and popular manifesto from March 9th 2014 argued the election was about nothing less than the future of Europe itself. The novelty of “different candidates running for Commission President while also representing different models of Europe”, the election of so-called Spitzenkandidaten, is seen as a quantum leap for the Union.
Miguel Maduro, Bruno de Witte and Mattias Kumm, who have developed and publicly supported the idea of electing the Commission President by the European Parliament in their policy paper The Euro-Crisis and the Democratic Governance of the Euro: Legal and Political Issues of a Fiscal Crisis, put it somewhat differently. They did not speak of competing models. Instead, according to them the direct election of the Commission president would increase the political legitimacy of the Commission, thus strengthening the institution in its new role as European crisis manager. The control over national economic and fiscal policy would be democratically legitimated and thus more easily promoted and enforced. Accordingly, it would furnish functionalist technocrats with democratic legitimization.
This understanding of the Spitzenkandidaten would surely not have motivated the citizens of Europe, especially on the so-called European periphery, to participate in the election. In this respect the manifesto was both more attractive as well as more realistic. Nonetheless, the manifesto was not able to demonstrate that the leading candidates could be the personalization of its slogans. Socialist leading candidate Martin Schulz was supposed to represent the programme of an “’alternative Europe’, one in which the market is subjected to democratic rules”. When demonizing the political alternative of “’lesser Europe’, where the market subjugates democratic rules”, the manifesto had to refer to a politician not even on the ballot: David Cameron. For the manifesto, EPP candidate Jean-Claude Juncker, now Commission President-elect did not seem to stand for anything in particular. Continue reading