And now, the EU

This latest EU election has already sent tremors through several countries, notably France. What’s at stake for Filipinos with the European Union?

Michael Lim Tan

Michael Lim Tan

Philippine Daily Inquirer


June 11, 2024

MANILA – Last week I wrote a midyear evaluation of 2024, dubbed as a global year of elections with half of the world’s adults voting in national elections. Last weekend was frenzied with final results streaming in for two important elections, in India and Mexico.

The Mexican election was interesting gender-wise, with the two leading candidates being women. The polls predicted that Claudio Sheinbaum, whose party was in power, would win and indeed she did but there was more to her than her gender: she had been the equivalent of a mayor for Mexico City, one of the world’s largest mega-cities, she was the first Jewish (a secular one) to become a Mexican president and the first president to come with impressive credentials of a climate scientist.

Yet, the stock market tumbled when she won because business people were nervous about having a leftist win, one who would carry on the policies of her predecessor, also from the left. She will have to be a tough president, tackling widespread violence, including femicide, with an average of 10 women murdered each day in Mexico.

Halfway across the world, the stock market tumbled, too, with elections, this time in India. The incumbent, Narendra Modi, was running for a third term and was confident his coalition would capture 400 of the 543 seats in India’s Parliament. Instead, the coalition got a mere 292 seats. Modi had become too confident and authoritarian during his term and the world’s largest democracy reacted, holding him accountable for continuing poverty and inflation.

Modi tried to capitalize on anti-Muslim feelings to get votes but in the end, his party lost even in the constituency of Faizabad, home of the city of Ayodhya where he had, in January this year, inaugurated a large Hindu temple built on the site of an ancient mosque that had been demolished by Hindu nationalists in 1992.

I could sense pride in commentaries written by Indian journalists, who were apparently tired of hearing Westerners predicting doom and gloom for India, with a strong subtext that Indians were not ready for democracy.

We turn the tables around and look at the European Union, which held elections from June 6 to 9 in its 27 member countries. The elections for members of a European Parliament were accompanied by fears of the rise of far-right political parties that preached about the dangers of “replacement” of white Europeans by migrants of color. These far-right parties also opposed environmental reforms, even rejecting the reality of climate change, claiming that this was just a ploy for increasing government interventions in people’s lives.

The far-right parties are described as eurosceptics, meaning they oppose the very concept of a European Union. If they had their way, there would be more countries following Brexit, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union in 2016.

This latest EU election has already sent tremors through several countries, notably France, where gains by the far right have pushed President Emmanuel Macron into a risky decision of dissolving the French Parliament and calling for two rounds of snap or early legislative election on June 30 and July 7.

What’s at stake for Filipinos with the European Union?

The number of Filipinos living in EU member countries is small compared to the United States but they number at least 500,000 and are concentrated in the countries where the far right has been gaining ground, particularly France, Germany, and Italy.

Filipinos are low profile in Europe but if the xenophobia or anti-foreigner sentiments continue to build up, Filipinos may well be targeted as well.

It is sad as well to see what is happening in Europe, where, despite its horrible history of imperialist exploitation, inspired the world with principles of humanism and democracy. The 20th century did show how easily those noble ideals could be dispensed with, what with Hitler and Nazism, and it is heartbreaking to see a resurgence of neo-fascism in our own times.

A new twist coming in from electoral politics is the high visibility of women in European politics. The current president of the EU is Ursula von der Leyen, who is likely to be renominated and reelected. Von der Leyen will have to deal with the women of the far right, particularly Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, who is the current prime minister and one of the founders of the political party Brothers of Italy, and France’s Marine Le Pen, who unsuccessfully ran for the French presidency in 2012, 2017, and 2022.

The left and centrist parties did maintain the majority in last weekend’s EU elections but with a narrower lead over the far right. Add on the results of this year’s national elections in several countries across the world and we can expect global politics to become even more complicated than in the past.

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