On 17 January, the European Parliament elected a new President, the Italian MEP Antonio Tajani. The election of Tajani may have gone unnoticed by most citizens in Ireland, however the implications of it could have far reaching consequences for their everyday lives. Tajani, is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), a group he shares with the four Fine Gael MEPs. This group refers to itself as the centre right. However, in its quest for power it has accepted political parties with extreme right-wing views, including parties like Fidesz from Hungary, the party of Viktor Orban.
The new president of the European Parliament, Tajani, is not as extreme as his Fidesz colleagues, but he does hold some conservative views. A founding member of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Party, Tajani was once spokesperson for the controversy-ridden Prime Minister. He has been a vocal opponent of reproductive and LGBTI rights.
In 1996 he wrote that “the child of a same sex couple is certain to have serious psychological problems and experience major difficulties in being accepted as part of society”. More recently he signed up to the Novae Terrae Pledge. This takes a hard line on abortion and on LGBTI people. On the issues of abortion and euthanasia, it asserts the right to life from conception to natural death. On same-sex marriage, it asserts that “families consist of the union of a man and woman”. It refers to same-sex relationships “as homosexual private affectivity” and claims any comparison between this and families is “insane”.
The choice of such a socially conservative man by the EPP for the role of President of the Parliament is deeply concerning. It marks a further shift to the right for this, the largest group in the Parliament. The election of Tajani also saw the end of the grand coalition between the ‘Socialist and Democrats’ group, the second largest in the Parliament, and the EPP. A dispute on who would take over the role of President of the Parliament led to this split. To secure his election, Tajani and his political group struck a deal with Guy Verhofstadt the leader of the ‘Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe’, the fourth largest group in the Parliament.
This hitching of the liberals to such a conservative candidate raised many an eyebrow on the corridors of power in Brussels. The deal is being sold as a pro-European coalition to combat the rise in far-right populism. Ironically this so-called pro-European coalition may very well further undermine citizens’ confidence in the European institutions.
Tajani is another insider, another establishment man who is very much part of the golden circle of European bureaucrats. His election, like those before him, was secured in a secret backroom deal. This is the type of deal that gives the EU its bad reputation. The contents of the deal will also do little to comfort citizens. This so called ‘pro-European’ deal is about federalism, it is about creating the basis for a united states of Europe. It wants to see more economic governance at EU level, a move that only one in five citizens actually supports.
The deal envisions a European defence union incorporating an EU coastguard and an EU army. Both these political groups are supportive of the call for Member States to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP, a large proportion of which would have to be spent on the arms industry. Ireland currently spends less than 0.6% and an increase of such magnitude would have to come from cuts to spending on other public services such as health and education. EU Barometer polls show that citizens see social inequality and unemployment as the priority for the EU. Despite this, the pro-European deal calls for more international trade deals. These trade deals have been shown to diminish workers’ pay and conditions and to undermine employment.
If there is anything positive to be taken from the election of Tajani it is that it may finally bring about a left/right realignment in the Parliament. It is rumoured that many of the more progressive members of the Socialists and Democrats group are secretly relieved at the break-up of the grand coalition. Across Europe they have been leaking votes and many have put this down to their failure to act asa voice of real opposition to the EU’s policies of austerity. These people have already made contact with my political group, the ‘European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)’, and with the ‘Greens – European Free Alliance group’ to see if we can forge a progressive left-wing voting bloc. It is only through such a bloc that a coherent approach can be taken to tackling the right-wing economic and social policies of the new President, and to stem the rise of fascism.
By Lynn Boylan