BRUSSELS—European leaders launched Tuesday in Brussels the hunt for the future new top EU officials in the wake of the European elections that resulted in a more fragmented European Parliament.
The two leading party groups, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the ceter-left Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Christian Democrats lost their absolute majority and are being challenged both from the EU-sceptics on the right and from a strong showing from liberal parties and the Greens.
The key job to be filled is that of president of the European Commission, the EU’s powerful chief executive, a five-year post currently held by Jean-Claude Juncker.
Under EU treaty law, the European Council which is composed of 28 national leaders nominates a Commission president, then the new 751-member parliament ratifies their choice.
But the procedure, while seemingly straightforward, masks a complex power struggle between rival states and ideological blocs and between the leaders and parliament itself.
European Jews, who have witnessed a worrying rise of traditional and new anti-Semitism during the last five years, have urged EU leaders to intensify the fight against this disease.
‘’We now need a Commission President who makes the fight against anti-Semitism a key priority and not a side issue”, said Tomas Sandell, Founding Director of the European Coalition for Israel (ECI), a non-Jewish advocacy group accredited to the European Union to combat Jew hatred and defend the State of Israel.
“In this current climate of Jew hatred and bigotry it is important for the EU- decision makers to understand that the rise of anti-Semitism is of grave concern, not only to the Jewish communities, but to every European citizen who cares about the future of our continent,” Sandell added, urging “the next European Commission President to do more to combat anti-Semitism.”
In 2015 the European Commission appointed a special EU coordinator in the fight against anti-Semitism, Katharina von Schnurbein. Since then, the European Parliament has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the EU Council has for the first time adopted a common Declaration ”on the fight against antisemitism and the development of a common security approach to better protect Jewish communities and institutions in Europe.” But despite this and repeated statements by EU leaders that ‘’Europe without Jews wouldn’t be Europe,’’ various surveys conducted by the EU itself show that Jews in Europe don’t feel secure and don’t think that the fight against antisemitism is efficient. ‘’Whereas former European Commission President Jose Manuekl Barroso had Katharina von Schnurbein working directly under him in his own cabinet, when she was the EU-liaison for religious communities, the current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has distanced himself from the portfolio,’’ noted Sandell. “This is regrettable. We now need a Commission President who makes the fight against anti-Semitism a key priority and not a side issue”, he added.
While the two main political blocs lost ground in the new European Parliament, contrary to most forecasts, populist and nationalist parties registered only slight gains. Extreme-right parties made impotrant gains only in some countries such as France and Belgium’s Flanders.
Are mainstream political parties better for Jews ? “Antisemitism has no political affiliation”
“Antisemitism has no political affiliation” , said EU Jewish leaders, in a post-election statement. “The dangerous and irresponsible role that some groups play in the labelling of political movements as antisemitic, purely in accordance to their own political interests, is destructive, does a massive disservice to Jewry,” said Rabbis Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association and Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, head of governmental relations for the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. For them, antisemitism has to be condemned and fought by itself, regardless of political affiliation.
“The picture, much like the diverse countries that make up the European Union, is a mixed and confused one. What is clear however is that European Jewry finds itself in the same position that it was in last week. The elections might represent a changing of the guard, but the threat of antisemitism is still here,’’ they added.
“Just as every rightist is not a facist or a nazi, and just as every leftist is not communist or a Stalinist. Antisemitism has no political affiliation. Not every left-wing legitimate criticism of the state of Israel is anti-semitism just like not every European national movement is anti-Jewish. There are no facile truths. Antisemitism seeps and infects every part of the political spectrum.’’
Israel, right-wing nationalist and extreme-right wing parties
In an analysis piece in The Jerusalem Post, jorunalist Herb Keinon noted that while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s has forged closer ties with some right-wing nationalist parties in Europe, considered as pro-Israel, such as Matteo Salvini’s Leaguein Italy and Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary, Israel’s policy has been to make a distinction among the far-right parties in Europe, casting some of them – such as Germany’s AfD Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, and even the National Rally Party of Marine Le Pen in France – beyond the pale because of antisemitism.
‘’One result of the strengthening of right-wing parties inside the EU parliament is that they are likely to place more of an emphasis on some issues important to Israel, and which Israel would like to see more effective EU involvement, such as combating Islamic terrorism,’’ writes Herb Keinon.
Israel will also be closely watching who will succeed Italian Federica Mogherini as High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, the EU’s top diplomat who chairs the EU foreign ministers’ meetings.
The first plenary session of the new European Parliament will take place on 2nd of July. The new European Commission President is expected to be nominated in June.