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EU Parliament: “Pro-European pride” in Strasbourg. But populists have no intention to rest on laurels…

Yesterday the European Parliament voted to adopt copyright reform along with provisions that urge Hungary to respect democratic principles. Some observers called it a “historic day” that repositioned the Assembly – elected with universal suffrage by European citizens – at the centre of the Community project, while others gloated at the favour made to sovereigntists movements in view of elections for the renewal of the European Parliament in May 2019

Yesterday in Strasbourg it was an “awkward” day. In fact the European Parliament voted on a set of measures with unpredictable outcomes. Two of these were the most unexpected: the adoption of the EP negotiating position on copyright reform and to protect European culture and creativity, artists and journalists against the prevailing interests of Internet giants, from Google, to Facebook to You Tube. The European Parliament then adopted a report calling upon Member Countries (EU Council) to determine, in accordance with Treaty Article 7, whether Hungary is at risk of breaching the EU´s founding values (respect for democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights). This could trigger a procedure aimed at ensuring that Hungary complies with the provisions enshrined in the Treaty, signed by the same Country.

Without going into the merits of the decisions taken, the latter prompts a number of questions as well as various considerations.

First point. As has been largely observed, remarkably, the EU Parliament, less than a year after the elections for its renewal (May 2019), has shown a burst of dignity, independence and political authority, simultaneously challenging Big Tech and popular Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban, an idol of sovereigntists across Europe. The Assembly in Strasbourg, usually a venue for agreements (negotiated deals) and excessive political diplomacy, yesterday “turned the tables”, and many MEPs displayed the intention to reaffirm their role and their independence from powerful sectors that are pressing on European lawmakers; marking the distance from widespread populist movements, which in Hungary and elsewhere, once in power, often flout the Treaties and tend to shift the responsibility of their mistakes, omissions and failures to Europe.

Second point. The Euro Chamber has taken firm stands (with a majority vote) after months of pressures and threats against MEPs, connected to the copyright issue and after Orban’s speech, delivered in the Assembly Hall the previous day, far from accommodative to Parliament and Commission’s legitimate requests involving the respect of democracy and rule of Law. Moreover, MEPs did not appreciate the patronizing attitude, and a sense of “European” pride probably reverberated across the entire Assembly, to the extent of determining the outcome of the vote.

Third point.  The votes of Wednesday September 12 were cast on the day of the anticipated State of the Union speech delivered by the President of the European Commission in the same European Parliament in Strasbourg, which many commentators described as restrained, lacking vision, almost giving the impression of not realizing that the EU – with the elections of May 2019 – risks falling into the hands of Euro-sceptics and nationalists from various fronts. Juncker’s rather unexpected attitude will need to be verified in the coming months… All this took place against the backdrop of the political silence that European Council President Donald Tusk seems to have plunged into at a time of strong tensions in many areas: migration, Brexit, security and defence, economy and employment, America’s Neo-protectionism, international instability (Libya, Syria), cumbersome relations with European neighbours (notably, Putin and Erdogan)…

Fourth point. A further question emerges with regard to EU citizens’ perception – commonly known to be distant from Community life and not always fully informed on the subject – of the two decisions taken by the European Parliament. The Big Tech lobbies and their associates are good communicators and in some cases they are nested within political environments. On top of this, the support enjoyed by Orban in Europe today is huge, much greater than the support enjoyed by his opponents and detractors. Thus, especially with regard to the Hungarian question, it is fair to ask if the decision of the EU Parliament could result in a rise in consensus for Orban and his supporters and friends present across the globe, entailing growing support– albeit unintentionally – to anti-European political parties in next May’s election.

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