Results of European parliament elections
European parliament elections warrant the attention of the Arab world.
Despite the appearance of growing irrelevance of Europe in the Middle East, both shores of the Mediterranean are closely connected in many ways.
The results of the elections at the end of May reflected significant changes.
For the first time since 1979, centrist formations lost their majorities. Leftist-leaning Greens on the one hand and the far right and nationalists on the other have gained ascendancy.
Environmental parties won about 70 seats in the 751-member EU parliament, a substantial improvement over the 51 seats they garnered in the 2014 election. Far-right populists won nearly 25% of the seats, a notch up from their previous 20% standing but not the sweeping wave some predicted.
The Greens are likely to try to shape alternative policies to the dominant centrist vision that has influenced the agendas of the parliament till now. With Liberals, the Greens will strive to nudge the European parliament’s position leftward.
That would include offering different approaches to foreign policy and migration policies than those of the far right and those of the increasingly right-leaning centrists. The Greens are likely to push for a “humane” approach to migration and “progressive internationalist” stances. That could help open a new debate in Europe about the root causes of illegal migration and the social development deficit in the European Union’s Arab “neighbourhood.”
The Arab world, which suffers from serious environmental problems, not the least of which are water scarcity and urbanisation pressures, could benefit the Greens’ focus. The Greens’ political idealism and lack of experience with security and military issues could be, however, a handicap for them in grasping some of MENA’s vital challenges.
Arab countries, especially their diasporas in Europe, will have to worry more about the rising influence of the far right. One-fourth of the seats in the European parliament does constitute political clout by any stretch of the imagination.
The issue of migration has relatively ceased to be a key driver of policy because the fears over foreign migrants have ebbed since 2015. However, fringe groups in Europe continue, with help from social media, to fuel conspiracy theories of population replacement and population transfer pitting European populations against migrants with different cultures and religion, especially those with Arab and Muslim backgrounds.
What has not ebbed within the far right, especially in France, is wariness about political Islam and about the Muslim faith itself. Confusing Islam with Islamism can create further misunderstandings between the Arab Muslim world and Europe.
Arabs have a stake in establishing more bridges with the European parliament beyond isolated discussions between individual Arab countries and European parliament commissions and EU institutions.
The first Euro-Arab summit of Sharm el-Sheikh should have provided the initial introductions between the two communities that are so close but yet so far.