Immigration, Populist Parties and Schengen: Challenges to the EU

On Monday, February 15th, the Guarini Institute hosted a panel discussion focusing on the European Parliament and the European Union in times of crisis. Participants included Donatella M. Viola, the editor of The Routledge Handbook of European Elections, Guido Lenzi, Lars Rensmann, and Eszter Salgó. The lecture started off with President Pavoncello stating that, “It looks like we are living in a different world that raises important issues, such as a huge wave of immigration, that we were not expecting. Today for the first time, the strategic solution to the problems of Europe is being questioned by challenging situations.” He ended his speech by asking an important question: Which direction are we headed?

Left to right: President Pavoncello, Donatella M. Viola, Guido Lenzi, and Professor Estzer Salgó

Left to right: President Pavoncello, Donatella M. Viola, Guido Lenzi, and Professor Eszter Salgó

Ambassador Lenzi took the floor as moderator by saying that the issue with the EU and the Parliament is this democratic deficit that is attributable to how people thought the EU should have developed and what the EU has actually become. He used two analogies, one that compared the issues with the EU like an algebraic equation: There are x’s, y’s, and minus z’s. We just have to figure out how to solve the equation and put them all together. Additionally, he compared the EU to a car. Do we want to transform it into a Ferrari, or a bicycle? Then he asked, “What kind of ‘vehicle’ do we need to adjust our respective policies?

Donatella M. Viola then began speaking and introducing her book, with a biblical metaphor of the Tower of Babel and the fact that it was never completed, just like the European Parliament building. In order to get to the top of the Tower, we have many things to improve and develop. Donatella continued by emphasizing an important shortcoming of the European Parliament’s effectiveness, and that is the number of voters in the elections. In fact, there was the least amount of voters when the topic of immigration was being discussed.

The next speaker was prof. Eszter Salgó, who argued that people shared apathy and hostility towards the European Parliament in 2009, and that this indifference has increased. People feel less interested in the idea of a Federal Europe. The issues stem from a failure to recognize the Parliament’s importance, a lack of communication, and the weak democratic organization.

Lars Rensmann, currently teaching at the University of Groningen, finished the panel discussion by bringing up an important point. He argued that the low voter turn-out stems from the fact that many European citizens know that the European Parliament is not a powerful institution, especially because they have not done anything about the immigration “crisis” and the other situations in Europe.

At the end of the lecture, a number of people asked questions. One important question that was brought up was whether or not citizens were ready to abandon their national prides and stop being French or Italian, and start being European? These issues that the European Union and the European Parliament are facing today are extremely complex, and do not have clear solutions. However, this lecture pointed out many of the problems within these institutions that need to be brought up in order to start the conversation that can help fix the current crisis that Europe is facing today.