Is the European center collapsing?

There is growing tension in the European bloc between those who are unhappy with Brussels’ growing interventionism and those who think the EU is not doing enough. The biggest victim of this escalation of the conflict may well be the center-right who, so far, has largely maintained the fractured bloc.

It has been a tough week for the European People’s Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament. The group is now gearing up for the departure of their longtime talisman Angela Merkel from frontline politics. Merkel’s CDU was the cornerstone of the EPP, but it now looks like Germany will be ruled by the Social Democrats, who are members of the openly integrationist Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Austria, the brilliant young European center-right, Sebastian Kurz, has resigned over corruption allegations. Kurz is accused of using taxpayer money to pay a pollster to produce favorable results. The fall of a politician who was able to sympathize with the concerns of the four Visegrád countries regarding European integration, but who was also acceptable to pro-EU forces, is a blow to those who believe that the differences of the block can be resolved through dialogue rather than punishment and recrimination.

Amid this turmoil, EPP figures are increasingly concerned about declining support for national elections across Europe. The group previously controlled all the largest countries in the EU: Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland. If the SPD comes to power in Germany, the group will not control any of the “big five” European countries.

The support of the EPP is emptying on both sides. To the right are parties such as Fidesz from Hungary, Law and Justice from Poland, Lega from Italy and the Rassemblement national de France. All oppose greater European integration. In July, these parties and others signed a joint declaration calling for fundamental reform of the EU because “instead of protecting Europe and its heritage, it itself becomes a source of problems and anxiety” .

The declaration cited the “moralistic overactivity” of Brussels leading to “a dangerous tendency to impose an ideological monopoly”. These parties believe that the EU’s attempts to influence national policies on migration, LGBT + rights and, more recently, controversial legal reform in Poland, show the bloc’s domineering – even imperial – tendency. There have even been exploratory talks on the creation of a new right-wing parliamentary group to counter EU enlargement.

Among them, there are many in Brussels for whom the agglomeration of more powers in the EU is an attractive prospect.

On the left, Socialists and Democrats – the second group in the European Parliament – called for “less talk and more action” on the rule of law, an “EU LGBTI strategy to end discrimination” and a “permanent compulsory relocation mechanism” for migrants arriving in the EU. These ideas make the most conservative members of the bloc recoil in horror.

Caught in the midst of this struggle are those who once saw themselves as centrists. The bloc has become a battleground for absolutist rhetoric: if you are not for the EU, you are against it. “You can’t be in the EU just a little bit,” said a former judge of the Polish Constitutional Court after the country’s recent ruling on the rule of national law. But does this mean that the ex-communist states which joined the EU for mainly economic reasons must now submit to common standards of culture and governance?

The departure of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party from the EPP earlier this year demonstrated the shrinking horizons of central Europe. Orbán’s calls for an EU without moral activism meant that he was outside the ideological borders of the EPP. The EPP is no longer a church large enough to contain Orbán’s skepticism of the EU. Instead, its members want the EU to continue on its current trajectory and are only slightly less integrationist than progressive groups in parliament.

The central terrain risks becoming a no man’s land.

The collapse of the center-right could have serious repercussions if a vital link between Eurosceptic forces and progressives were severed. Last year’s bitter impasse over the ‘rule of law’ mechanism for EU funds was only resolved thanks to the intervention of Merkel, who has always been wary of the serious economic consequences of a departure from Hungary or Poland from the EU.

This bridge between the two factions of the EU is weakening and, with the loss of control of the EPP in Germany, may well collapse. Without the anchoring effect of a strong center, polarized extremes might just tear the block apart.

This article was originally published on The spectatorthe UK website of.

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