BRUSSELS – Some say that political theater, not policies, drives democracies, and that’s certainly true of the drama – with comic overtones – that has been playing out in the European Union. The European Parliament elections in late May highlighted the “big picture” of the EU’s accelerating unpopularity; yet that warning was quickly eclipsed by the much smaller question of who should head the EU’s executive, the European Commission.
Needless to say, it’s the big picture that really matters. The message of the European Parliament election was that the EU is losing public support at an alarming rate. For a few weeks, the focus of attention in Brussels and most European capitals was on the reforms needed to recover the trust of almost 300 million voters.
But attention soon switched to the very public row between the EU’s national leaders over whether Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker should get the Union’s top job, which is precisely the sort of issue that conveys a business-as-usual attitude – in defiance of the wave of euroskepticism expressed by votes cast throughout Europe. Indeed, Juncker was his country’s prime minister for almost two decades, and is thus a familiar face on the EU scene. He is highly qualified, but he is not exactly an exciting newcomer whose arrival would herald change.
It is possible, of course, that Juncker will confound his critics and become the radical reformer that the EU needs and public opinion wants. Let’s hope so, because the next few years look like a make-or-break period for the European project.