The EU elections in May 2014 are going to be a challenge for the traditional parties, and for the legitimacy of EU integration. The EU-wide parties — chiefly the Popular Party (center right) and Socialist Party (left), made up of like-minded members — will be running candidates for president of the European Commission. There will be EU-wide electoral programs and shared strategies. But the citizens, as on previous occasions, will vote for their own countries' parties, right or left, on a national basis, because the EU-wide parties have no credibility of their own. Nor can they have any, as long as they are incapable of criticizing national member parties, or of pressuring them to change when their behavior is manifestly opposed to values the EU-wide party claims to stand for.
Now the European Socialist Party has approved a program that identifies the Europe-wide social-democratic family. It did this is in Bulgaria, where the local socialists are in power thanks to the support of the ultra-nationalist party Ataka, amid massive protests. This government was touted as a technical one, but included figures as shady as Delyan Peevski, a media magnate dogged by corruption allegations, whom the government had to withdraw due to the protests. The European Socialist Party did not wish to raise its voice against "its own people" in Bulgaria; nor did it against the corruption in the Pasok (socialist) party in Greece; nor against the national-populist drift of leftist parties Slovakia and Romania. With the excuse that "the others [i.e. the right] are worse," the European Socialist Party is nourishing euro-skepticism when it abstains from criticism of member parties that shame the values enshrined in the new Fundamental Program.
With the excuse that "the others are worse," the European Socialist Party is nourishing euro-skepticism by not criticizing members who are out of line
These Socialist weaknesses are the perfect excuse for the European Popular Party's complicit and supportive silence concerning the undemocratic behavior of Fidesz, the political group that holds power in Hungary. Thanks to this support, Viktor Orbán's government has escaped EU sanctions for having abused his two-thirds parliamentary majority to stamp out every trace of checks and balances, compulsively amending and re-amending the Constitution, always in his own favor. Even his principal defenders in the European Popular Party have uttered murmurs of discontent. This, at least, is something: better than nothing. The European Popular Party never uttered a word against Berlusconi's abuses of power for private ends, nor does it speak now against the authoritarian drifts of conservative governments in Turkey, Macedonia and Albania.
The British conservatives seem to be doing the European PP a favor by deciding to leave it. Their euro-skeptic voting alliances with Poland's Law and Justice party (Catholic, homophobic, ultraconservative), the Czech ODS of Václav Klaus (who preaches that climate change is a communist conspiracy), and other, frankly authoritarian groups, shows unconcern for democratic values and puts them outside the European democratic game.
Every time the two major EU-wide parties decide to look the other way in the face of misbehavior by "their own people," they belie their rhetoric about shared values. Their solidarity is not, in practice, between nations or states, but a clan spirit in defense of their own people, right or wrong. In this sense the European groupings distil the worst of the national parties of which they are comprised: uncritical loyalty and obsession with closing ranks, even at the cost of ethical integrity or coherence of ideas. Luckily for them, their voters care little about unity on the European scale. If they did, and if they knew of the company their deputies keep in other countries, many voters might reconsider just who "their own people" are.