The European elections of 2014, with some 500 million EU members represented and 751 MEPs elected, took place in a fundamentally different and saddening context than was ever expected. Last week’s shooting at the Jewish Museum of Brussels, in which four people, including two Israelis and a woman from France, were slain, scars the environment and context of the elections and brings with it a saddening memory of rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
In light of the police manhunt for a suspect involved in this attack, there came the results of the European elections. The results raised — but did not answer — the serious questions of where Europe is going and how it is getting there. The results did, however, vindicate in part the fear and concern voiced in the past weeks with regards to the rise of far right-wing parties across Europe. A likely bloc of some 50-60 seats from across European member states has resulted in an increase in fear of the rise of anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance.
Aside from the far right, the European Parliament also saw an end to the era of a clear majority for any one party. Having released most of the results, the center-right European People’s Party seemed to have successfully maintained its lead in Parliament, but at a much diminished level, with only 26 seats more than its nearest rivals the Socialists and Democrats (as opposed to their 78-seat majority in 2009).
Similarly, the elections also witnessed an, albeit expected, low turnout of some 41.11 percent. Although this was a 0.1 percent increase from 2009, it does mean that some 58 percent of European citizens did not feel engaged or motivated enough to vote.
All of the factors above are not meant to detract from the European elections, but to raise the questions of where Europe is going and, notably, what does all this mean for the Europe-Israel relationship?
The shootings in Brussels over the weekend acted as a stark reminder that there is violence aimed at sowing division, intolerance, and bigotry. Although the elections have not given a resounding and comprehensive answer of unity, they have acted as a warning sign while also giving some reason for optimism.
Key individuals who have worked hard to improve and extend the EU-Israel relationship have been reelected in their seats. This means that there can be no doubt that the incredibly strong economic, trade, research, and security ties that exist between Israel and the EU will continue to grow and deepen.
The elections have also made it clear that this relationship will have its challenges over the coming years; specifically, measures relating to the labeling of Israeli goods from beyond the Green Line will continue to gain momentum, as will the European dual policy of opposing boycotts of Israel while enacting a policy of “disengagement” from Israeli settlements.
However, the wider question of where the EU is headed, and subsequently where the EU-Israel relationship is headed, is left somewhat unanswered. The elections have given a picture of a Europe that has decisions and choices to make about its future direction, vision, and principles, and the terrible events of the past weekend have reminded us all of the urgency of the need to make these decisions soon.