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Lawfare Daily: The EU Parliamentary Elections and What’s Ahead with Molly Reynolds, Tara Varma, and Sophie Roehse

Molly E. Reynolds, Tara Varma, Sophie Roehse
Tuesday, May 28, 2024, 8:00 AM
How might the EU elections impact issues facing the United States?

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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Between June 6–9, voters across the EU’s member states will go to the polls to select members of the European Parliament. For today’s episode, Brookings Senior Fellow and Lawfare Senior Editor Molly Reynolds chatted with Tara Varma, Visiting Fellow, and Sophie Roehse, Senior Research Assistant, both of the Center for the United States and Europe at Brookings, to discuss these elections, what they mean for European politics, and how they might affect key issues also facing the U.S., including the war in Ukraine, relations with China, and how to handle asylum seekers.

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[Audio Excerpt]

Tara Varma: We're really at a moment where there's a lot of speculation and uncertainty at a time where the European Commission has taken on, actually, a much greater role in European citizens' lives, and whose own motto is to be a geopolitical commission.

Molly Reynolds: It's the Lawfare Podcast. I'm Molly Reynolds, Senior Fellow at Brookings and Senior Editor at Lawfare with Tara Varma, Visiting Fellow, and Sophie Roehse, Senior Research Assistant, both of the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings.

Sophie Roehse: These European-level parties, there are a lot of differences among them. They're ideologically connected, but this is a loose coalition of parties having some similar orientation, but there are still a lot of differences among the national parties, which means that there's often disagreements also on different policy issues, and actually foreign policy, especially.

[Main Podcast]

Molly Reynolds: Today, we're talking about the upcoming EU parliamentary elections.

Alright, so we're going to dig into a bunch of topics today, but I want to start with the basics, which is what is the role of the European Parliament and how do its elections work? Sophie, over to you.

Sophie Roehse: Thank you, Molly, and thank you for having us on for this conversation today. I want to start at the very beginning and maybe just remind us all of what the European Union is. It is a political community of 27 member states. And then the way the parliament fits into the European Union is it is one of the two legislative institutions within the European Union. So it has a lawmaking role. And if you want a picture it, the European Parliament works in the legislative branch alongside the Council of the EU, which consists of the heads of government and the cabinet ministers of the individual 27 member states.

So the parliament has the authority to revise and amend legislation that comes through from the executive branch. And every new legislation that is passed in the European Union must be approved or rejected by the parliament. However, the parliament does not have the legislative initiative. It can't propose new laws itself. That comes from the executive level, which consists of the European Commission and the European Council, which is a collective of the heads of government, the commission president, and the council president. Again, the parliament plays an important role in the European policy process because each piece of legislation has to pass through the parliament.

And it is also very important because it is the only EU body that is directly elected by citizens. So again, the European Union consists of 27 member states, 450 million citizens. But as an EU institution, voters elect the parliament directly, in addition, of course, to their national governments. That is important, though, because that gives the European Union its democratic legitimacy. And for that, leaders are hoping for high voter turnout to make that policy process credible to have that voter input. I would also note that there are, of course, many issues atop of voters’ minds, and often, these are also issues that they experience in their daily lives that are things that get decided at a national level as well. Although, in the last years, the European and the national level have become increasingly intertwined. And so the vote should be seen as both a referendum on national level policies, but also European policy.

In terms of the process, the European Parliament election is essentially run within member states. So in the 27 countries, voters elect members of their national parties, who then at the European level, become part of a European political grouping. And the Parliament will have 720 seats after the June election. I should note, I don't think I had mentioned this before, the election will take place over a course of four days from June 6th through 9th. The 720 seats will be allocated to the different countries, again, consisting of their national parties and coming together at the European level based on population size, although there's a non-proportional factor that favors smaller states. For example, Germany has a total of 95 seats in the parliament, but one seat represents around 880,000 people, whereas Malta, which is the smallest country has 6 seats, and one seat represents around 90,000.

And the elections are also run differently in each country. Again, the countries vote on different days, although most do vote on Sunday, June 9th. There's differences in terms of the minimum voting age. Some countries have 16 years as a minimum age. Some do 18. Also, the minimum age for candidates, whether there's a percentage cutoff that parties need to reach in order to get into the parliament. If you get into the weeds of it, it's very complicated. But essentially, the 27 national elections will come together at the European level and elect the new parliament.

Molly Reynolds: So we'll get more into some of the stuff around the party structure and the European political groupings and the issues. But one of the things that you mentioned, Sophie, is that in addition to selecting members of the European Parliament, the elections also affect who's selected for the EU Commission, and then as the commission's president. Tara, can you talk a little about those roles and their responsibilities?

Tara Varma: Absolutely. So, you have first the European Commission, the president of whom is quite well known actually here, Ursula von der Leyen. The commission is the politically independent executive body of the EU. It is alone responsible for drawing up proposals and for new European legislation. And it implements those decisions of the European Parliament and Council of the European Union.

The Council of the European Union is an essential EU decision-making body. It negotiates and adopts legislations in most cases with the European Parliament. We call that process co-decision. It has a rotating presidency every six months of each European member state. So right now, Belgium until June 30th has the rotating presidency for the first semester of 2024. And Hungary is going to take over that rotating presidency on July 1st. I should say the presidency of the European Council really has a moderating role. It's not, theoretically, supposed to be politically motivated. But the reality of the matter is, from one member state to another, dependent on their history and political motivations, they might decide to take the opportunity of having the presidency to shape the agenda. They're not really supposed to do it, but we've seen it happen. My own country, France, did it when it had the rotating presidency in the first semester of 2022 because it was seen as really a vehicle for Emmanuel Macron's campaign. He portrays himself as a pro-European president. And so that was really key to him. There are many questions about what Hungary is going to do in the second semester of 2024 when it comes to Ukraine, European defense, migration. We'll talk about those issues later. But it is quite an important moment. The European Council are quarterly meetings where EU heads of state meet, and the Council of Europe is not an EU institution at all. It's Europe's human rights organization, I should say, but it has virtually no power.

So we're at a moment right now where the parliament will have to elect the future president of the commission and the college of commissioners, 27 commissioners, each nominated by their country. The role that they have inside the commission is of course key. Each a commissioner is the head of the general directorate, and there are a lot of those, which are quite key. Competition or trade are the most exclusive and important competencies of the commission. But one of typically the commitments that Ursula von der Leyen has taken were she to be reelected is to have a defense commissioner of the EU, something that has never happened before. So there is a lot of speculation around who that might be. One of the key front runners for that position is current Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, but the current Estonian Prime Minister is also seen as potentially having a new role either at the European Council or the European Commission. So we're really at this moment where there's a lot of tractation going on, a lot of people positioning themselves.

And we're also seeing Ursula von der Leyen, whose reelection was almost a given last year. But basically, since October 7th and Hamas’s attack on Israel and her initial reaction, which was to side fully with Israel, we've seen a bit of a backlash coming from a number of member states who said that they would support her for a reelection. And it's not just that. Her position on economic security is not fully endorsed by all the member states. Her proximity with the U.S. is not always seen also in a positive light by a number of member states. So what we're seeing now is actually one of the key member states, my own country, France, who had said that they would support her, who are saying now that they're thinking of other people to take over from her.

So we're really at a moment where there's a lot of speculation and uncertainty at a time, and we'll get back to it, where the European Commission has taken on actually a much greater role in European citizens’ lives and whose own motto is to be a geopolitical commission.

Molly Reynolds: Sophie, you mentioned before, the way in which members of the EU Parliament are elected in their individual countries. But then there's a sort of different party structure in the EU Parliament itself. We know that a number of European countries are dealing with ascendant populism in their individual countries. It's channeled into specific parties and their multi-party systems. How is that playing out at the EU Parliament level? What does the party structure look like in an institution that spans many countries that have different party and different electoral systems?

Sophie Roehse: That's a great question. And essentially, I would say the European party structure does have a lot of parallels to the national level party structures. So you have a center-right party, the European People's Party, also known as the EPP, the socialists and Democrats, which are in the center-left. Those are the big mainstream parties. Then you have a liberal party of Renew Europe, and also the Greens and the Free Alliance, also on the center-left, left end of the political spectrum. Then you have a far-left party that brings together left-wing political parties across member states. And then, of course, you have the right-wing parties as well.

And I think this gets to your question of these national populist movements, often with a hard right element that are coming together at the European level. So in my country, Germany, we have the AFD, the Alternative for Germany. In France, you have the National Rally Party, and also the Reconquête. And so those are grouped into the European conservatives and reformers. And the Identity and Democracy party, which are both again, Euro-skeptic and have these populist right-wing parties as our members.

One thing I will say is that often, these European level parties, there are a lot of differences among them. They’re ideologically connected, but this is a loose coalition of parties having some similar orientation, but there are still a lot of differences among the national parties. Which means that there's often disagreements also on different policy issues, and actually foreign policy, especially with regards to Russia, Ukraine, also China relations and transatlantic relations, and I think we'll get into that later as well.

But at the European level, one thing that has been interesting to watch is that the goal of these far-right parties in Europe is not so much anymore to exit the EU. I think Brexit was a shock to both Europe and the UK. And it's not so much an idea to remove themselves from the EU, but rather take over the EU and undermine it from within or push their own hard-right agenda. And in 2021, Marine Le Pen of the National Rally Party proposed this declaration that about 16 other right-wing parties, including Orbàn's Fidesz party, and also Salvini's Lega party from Italy signed on to, claiming that there was a takeover of radical forces within the European Union that wanted to create this European super state. So they oppose further integration at the European level. They want to take issues back to the national level.

And what is also worrying is that they do have this civilizational vision of Europe. They are anti-LGBTQ communities, often anti-migration. They oppose climate policy. And so on these issues, they have very extreme stances, and they have a vision of a Christian Europe that excludes foreigners and is very harsh on issues, such as climate and immigration.

However, there's been a development since Giorgia Meloni came to the head of the Italian government with her Brothers of Italy Party, which is actually also the successor of a fascist movement from the 20th century. She has found a way to work constructively with other national leaders at the European level. She has been very pro-supporting Ukraine. She's been hard on Russia, and she's also been pro-NATO. And so she has found a way to make herself seem more democratic than some think she is. And so that has become a new model for the hard-right to push their vision of Europe, but to do it in a way that allows them to shape the agenda and gain more power within the European Union.

Molly Reynolds: You started to talk a little bit about some of the kind of issues that are at stake, and we know voting begins on June 6th. But Tara, what issues seem to be top of mind for voters in these elections? And what does the polling suggest might happen?

Tara Varma: So it's quite interesting to me to also compare the issues that are at stake in the election happening here in November, because they are quite different. Migration, and we'll get back to that, is one common thread. But climate and social issues really remain the priority for European citizens.

The climate debate in Europe is very different than that in the U.S. I think there's a lot of expectation from younger European citizens for the EU to play a role here. And the EU has also endorsed that responsibility in a way. One of the major policy proposals that the von der Leyen commission came up was the EU Green Deal. And really this idea that Europe was going to use its main tool, the single market, to not export climate policies, but ensure that it partners with countries and helps them go through industrial and climate transition. So this remains a fairly big issue.

I often tell my friends in the U.S. that there is a big debate also in Europe about flight-shaming, something that's not so well known here. But passing legislation that would limit the ability of people to fly a limited number of times in their lives unless they're a diplomat or traveling for work or their family is living abroad. But this is the kind of debate that we're having. I had colleagues when I was still living in France who would travel to Germany by train, and it would take them almost a day to do so against taking a flight that was an hour away. So we're really having different sorts of discussion.

I think what I call social justice issues are also really key, where we saw a lot of farmers protests across member states in the EU, in the Netherlands, in Greece, in Portugal, in France, in Germany, countries with actually vastly different economies, vastly different preoccupations of citizens. But there is this sense also connected to the climate issue that actually Europeans are doing a lot for climate and taking up a lot of commitments, but it is affecting people in their daily lives.

And I think, in a way, that is what is interesting to me in this election is that I feel, my intuition is that it is one of the first time where the European election feels connected to people at a very individual micro level. And I say this, I would say even more as a French person for whom sometimes for most of the French people, Europe seems very distant. It's interesting to me that there is a sense we're seeing much higher expectation of turnout from younger people in particular. Last time around there was a 51 percent turnout. Some polls say there might be a 71 percent turnout across the EU, which would be actually quite a change, but also would give more democratic value to the parliament and then the commission. So we're seeing a mobilization, a lot of discussion about what these European elections mean. I think also at a time where Europe's geopolitical role is being questioned.

The migration issue, I think we'll get back to, is not so different, I would say from the U.S. There was an article the week of May 20th that came out in the Washington Post about how the EU basically rejects a number of migrants in North Africa. And I would encourage a lot of people to read it because there is an EU policy normally that is not to reject people and not to conduct policies that go against human rights. That's actually an EU engagement and part of the EU's values. But what we're seeing in reality are decision makers, policy makers, really attuned to citizens’ fear about migrations, a lot of misconceived fears, a lot of miscomprehension, misunderstanding. But the fact of the matter is you see this migration issue being absolutely key to citizens’ preoccupation. And so ultimately what matters to people, I think, are issues that seem close to them. And we'll see the extent to which these different issues actually bring people to vote.

One of the key issues that came out on May 23rd, 2024 in the new Eurobarometer that just came out, is that 80 percent of respondents of the Eurobarometer expect a lot more defense cooperation at the EU level. Again, a massive sea change, something that was not expected at all. I'll remind our listeners that the EU was originally really a peace project, totally disconnected from defense and security matters, at least in the traditional hard security sense of the term. So to see, in the past two years since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, this change of mindset across the EU, I think is quite remarkable. And the expectation that actually if the EU is to be a geopolitical actor and an actor on the international stage, partnering with a lot of countries, that this entity now needs to think about defense and security, is something that I didn't expect to see, I have to say.

And it does reassure me on the capacity of the EU to sometimes make quick turnarounds. We know that one of the key frustrations coming from European citizens is that the EU seems very far away. It's very bureaucratic. As I mentioned earlier, there are three different institutions working together. They almost share the same name. It's hard to distinguish them where you're not in the weeds of the issues. But actually people do want this actor to do something, and it has the capacity to do so.

Molly Reynolds: So Tara, I appreciate that you started talking about defense and security issues. That's a great segue into where I want to go next. I want to talk about some issues that might be of particular interest to Lawfare Podcast listeners, to get your thoughts on how the results of the elections might bear on them. So let's start with defense and security from a broad perspective.

Many of the EU member states are also members of NATO. We know that here in the U.S., during the once and possibly future Trump administration, the U.S.-NATO relationship has come under strain. How do you think the elections might shape the transatlantic security alliance?

Tara Varma: To me, it’s a fascinating question because defense and security are not part of the mandate of the European Commission in particular. But we have seen, you’re right, particularly under the Trump administration, which was really a shock and a trauma for the Europeans that I'm not sure they fully recovered from and that they’re very anxious about renewing again. And I think, and I guess, a Trump II administration would be also vastly different from the Trump I. An administration a lot more prepared, better organized with a plan in hand. So I think it would be quite different, and also a sense of antagonism to the EU that is not hidden at all. So I think there has been a bit of reckoning there. And we've seen the commission extend its powers in a way, and it's a hard ambition to be a geopolitical commission if you're not talking about defense and security.

So under the Trump administration, a lot of what the commission did was to look at economic security, health security. But what we've seen since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine is actually thinking about defense and security. So one instrument mechanism, an off-budget mechanism that's been used is the European Peace Facility, which has enabled the European Union for the first time in its history to provide lethal weapons a country member, neither of NATO nor of the EU, not yet at least. Accession negotiations are ongoing for Ukraine and Moldova. And there might be an acceleration at the June European council of actually Ukraine's accession to the EU. But the fact of the matter is in February 2022, suddenly the EU itself and member states started providing these weapons to Ukraine. It was something that was done in a totally ad hoc manner.

And where it appeared quite clearly for the first time that it was not antagonistic or redundant with NATO—because that's often the issue. NATO-EU cooperation is often very difficult. There's a lot of reluctance brought from NATO's side and the EU’s side itself. Because I think also the two organizations really don't understand each other. But actually, this time around, it was fascinating to see how very quickly on the EU imposed a massive number of sanctioned packages in the span of six months; 12 sanctioned packages were adopted by the EU in conjunction with NATO. There was a convening platform organized, making sure that, basically, the right type of weapons and the right amount of weapons were provided to Ukraine. It was not enough then, it's still not enough now. But there was, again, an ad hoc coordination happening that had never happened in the past.

And so it is possible, I think. And I think, I hope, there's a bit less reluctance also on NATO’s side to see the EU as a defense actor, because unfortunately, I don't think the EU can go back on everything that it has done, and it shouldn't. But also, if there's a second Trump administration, Europeans will have to think about their security.

The parliament doesn't play a key role there, per se. But if we see, something that Sophie has mentioned, a massive rise of the far-right in these elections, they will want to take European foreign policy in a different direction. And they'll be able to do so not just at the parliament, but at their own national member state level. And that plays at the Council of the EU because it's where decisions are made amongst member states, who still have the prerogative when it comes to defense and security. So actually, there's a connection there, and it is quite clear that these parties’ mandates are much closer to Russia. They've been quite clear that they wouldn't want to push forward Ukraine's accession to the EU. Clearly wouldn't want to push Ukraine's accession to NATO, though I don't think that's on the table, despite the Washington-NATO summit happening in July. But they would go in a really vastly different direction. A number of member states are already Trojan horses for Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns. So you could see how a lot that has been happening in the past two and a half years could unravel in a fundamentally different direction very quickly.

Molly Reynolds: So we'll come back to China in a second, but first I want to ask Sophie about Ukraine. So obviously one of the most pressing security concerns, both in Europe and globally right now, is the war in Ukraine. What role does the EU Parliament play in providing support for Ukrainians? And what direction might that go in after the elections?

Sophie Roehse: As Tara mentioned, the EU was instrumental in passing the series of sanction packages in the immediate aftermath of Russia's full-scale invasion, and since on economics, on individuals, instituting the oil price cap, etc. So really, the EU came together and got this done, and in that was a really important partner also to the United States in responding to Russia's illegal invasion.

The European Union as an institution, but also the national member states together, have also provided a lot of aid to Ukraine. Actually, together, the member states and the EU institutions have provided more aid than the United States, although it's important to mention that some of those are long-term commitments. Not all the money has been allocated yet. And if anyone is more curious to learn about this, I would quickly refer them to the “Brookings Ukraine Index Project,” which tracks aid to Ukraine, as well as other security, economic, and humanitarian issues related to the war.

A difference between the EU aid and the U.S. aid is that most of Europe's aid has been, and the EU specifically, has been financial aid, whereas, or a lot of the U.S. aid has been military and weapons. And member states have sent that individually, but not at the European Union level so much.

I do think that support for Ukraine would remain strong no matter how these elections go. As Tara mentioned, there's some, particularly in the Identity and Democracy group that are openly Russia-friendly, where there have been recent suspicions of manipulation by the Kremlin and also Chinese espionage, which we'll get back to. But I do think that overall for the European conservatives and reformers also who are Euro-skeptic and very far towards the right, again, they include Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and also the Polish Law and Justice Party. But they have been staunch supporters of Ukraine, and I think they will continue to do so.

One thing that I might also note is that Europe has taken in millions of refugees from Ukraine. So a lot of that European aid has also been humanitarian aid going to Ukraine, but also housing and caring for these refugees. And the European Union actually, for the first time, enacted the Temporary Protection Directive, which gave Ukrainians the right to reside in the EU, and also to go to school, to be employed. So that was really critical. And 6.4 million refugees actually are still in Europe. And that is one point where I think if the hard-right, Identity and Democracy Party does make such great gains, I think it could become a more hostile environment for Ukrainian refugees also in Europe. But we'll see where the elections take us.

Molly Reynolds: So Tara, you mentioned China earlier. EU policy towards China has been somewhat less hawkish than U.S. policy in recent months. Do you see that continuing after the elections? Could this be a source of tension with the United States?

Tara Varma: So I don't know if it's been less hawkish, to be honest. I think the EU still wants to work with China. But when I think of the communication of the commission that came out in March 2019 that defined a new way of looking at the EU-China relationship, it mentioned the triptych of the EU-China relationship being that of a partner, a competitor, but also a systemic rival. And this idea behind systemic rivalry is that actually there is something that's fundamentally incompatible in our systems of governance. And so I have trouble understanding how that squares the circle of us being partners to and the reality of the matter is in the past five years, most Europeans have struggled to see that, too. I think the COVID pandemic and its aftermath played a big part in that.

In a way, while the Trump administration was happening here and very antagonistic to the EU, the EU had another form of reckoning in its relationship to China, when China, which held a lot of key medical instruments, key medical equipment during the COVID pandemic, in a way that the EU was really not expecting, and really struggling to get messages across the Chinese system. And so I think that the fact that it mentioned the systemic rivalry was also a way for the EU to think of its relationship with China in a different way.

It doesn't want to close the door on China. But I do think the U. S. and the U.S. share the same vision of the trajectory that China is taking, which is increasingly an autocratic totalitarian trajectory, with which there is going to be an incompatibility. There is already one. I think the U.S.-China rivalry is really about geopolitical competition, technologic, economic. I do think the Europeans want to protect themselves from that. And they also have in their DNA, this faith in multilateralism. And I think what I see as a European living in D.C. is that there is still a willingness from the European side to try and count China as a partner in key negotiations, namely on climate. And they've been struggling to do. I don't think anybody is naive about that. But I do feel like there are some people here who've given up on this idea, and I don't think the Europeans have.

I think the Europeans are playing this very Macronian en même temps, simultaneously play, because they're saying they're still open to China, but at the same time, the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen last year released, for the first time, its economic security strategy that is country agnostic, but clearly directed at China. And she's, I would say, much more hawkish on China than other European leaders. So there's also actually something at play here for her own political future in Europe because some do find her a bit too hawkish.

But the Europeans have also opened an investigation on two Chinese EVs present in Europe, which are much cheaper than European electric vehicles. And so Europeans are also confronted to a dilemma here, which is that China provides cheaper electric vehicles, which would, by definition, be accessible to more people. But at the same time, that plays against European industries trying to reindustrialize in this moment, something that the U.S. is trying as well. And this is where we'll see whether that transatlantic cooperation will continue or not. The Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS Act, was not well-taken in Europe.

These were signs that the U.S. actually could also use its trade and financial instruments—that it does use it against China is one thing, but I think Europeans do fear that it would be used against them. I'm thinking typically of steel and aluminum tariffs that were instituted by the Trump administration that were not revoked under the Biden administration, despite very clear demands from the European side that it happens. The announcement a few days ago by President Biden that there were massive tariffs imposed on China is something I think that is fully understandable, and I'm not saying that Europeans won't do it themselves, but it does raise alarms in terms of whether these types of tariffs would be applied to partners as well.

And I think there is this sense in this triangulation between the U.S., Europe and China, there is a sense that there should be a lot more transatlantic cooperation. We won't agree on all the issues when it comes to China, but we do need much stronger cooperation and a common agenda. There's an EU-U.S. dialogue on China. There's an EU-U.S. dialogue on the Indo-Pacific now. But taking those dialogues to the next levels with clear cooperation, clear proposals, policy proposals is proving to be not that easy because there are actually competing industrial interests between Europe and the U.S. The risk here is that China tries to drive a wedge between us and exploits those differences. So the onus really is on the U.S. and the EU now to solve this, I would say, before the presidential election here.

Molly Reynolds: So I have one more issue that I want to talk a little bit about. Tara, you mentioned earlier that one place where there is overlap between the coming U.S. election and these elections is around the role of migration, immigration as a major issue I know you two have been working on some work around the EU’s new Migration Pact. How do you see these elections impacting the trajectory of that pact? And what role are is migration as an issue playing in the campaign?

Sophie Roehse: That's a great question, and I do think that there are a lot of parallels to the U.S. debate.

At the start, I would mention that migration has increasingly been seen as a security issue. It's being viewed within the bucket of security and foreign policy, not so much as a humanitarian development issue. And I think that the overall mood and tone of the conversation have shifted to the right, where the focus has been on securitizing Europe's borders and making agreements with non-EU countries to stop migrants before they come to Europe, essentially. It is deals that the EU has made in recent weeks and months with Tunisia, Egypt, for example, providing development aid in exchange for closer monitoring of migration movements, and also a deal between Italy and Libya, for example, that provides aid to the Libyan Coast Guard for maritime patrol operations, so that migrants can be apprehended before they reach European shores.

The new EU Pact on Migration was just passed by the Parliament and the Council in recent weeks. I think the votes happened in April and in early May. And there's two key parts that I would mention here. The first is a new accelerated procedure at the EU's external borders that will put people from certain countries who have a low recognition rate of being granted asylum. They will be put into this new accelerated procedure, which is supposed to take up to a maximum of 12 weeks. And during that time, they will be held at the EU's borders in detention-like facilities. And initially, more center-left leaning progressive leaders across the EU had pushed for exceptions for families and children, for example. But in that point, ultimately, Giorgia Meloni, at the head of the right coalition, pushed through the deal without any exceptions. So that has been heavily criticized.

Another point is a new solidarity mechanism. So the Common European Asylum System has, until this recent pact, been based on the Dublin Regulation, which prescribes that the member states in which an asylum seeker first sets foot is responsible for processing their asylum claim. And that has posed a heavy burden on external countries with external borders at the forefront of the of the EU, for example, Italy, Greece, and Spain. And so there have been calls for a better mechanism to share responsibility in this issue area across the EU. So this new solidarity mechanism proposes a quota of, I think, 30,000 asylum seekers per country that every member state is going to be obligated to take in. But they can also opt out of taking in asylum seekers and pay 20,000 euros per person to financially assist countries that do house them or provide other aid to help countries who are ultimately hosting asylum seekers.

So those are two key points and there has been opposition to this new pact, especially the solidarity mechanism from Orbàn's Fidesz party on the right. But also the new Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, had criticized it. And so it's still questionable whether it can stop the number of asylum applications in Europe. And again, it emphasizes the external borders of the European Union, trying to reduce numbers and cut itself off from people coming to Europe.

Tara Varma: So the migration issue is one that far-right parties have tried to gather around. That was already the case in 2019, Marine Le Pen at the time and Victor Orbàn had tried to form a common program based on basically the sole idea that they wanted to block migration. And they didn't manage to agree because as Sophie said earlier, there are actually a few differences amongst them still.

The question now is, I think Le Pen and Orbàn were too—they are two characters, two politicians in Europe with particular histories. In a way, what I am scared about right now is this new personality that Giorgia Meloni is. She clearly comes from a neofascist political party. When she was elected—when she was brought about as Italian prime minister, she was anti-EU, anti-NATO. And in a very astute way, she kept the anti-EU part, but became pro-NATO and pro-Ukraine. And so that warranted her quite a lot of support from the U.S. government. We saw her a few weeks ago in the Oval Office with Biden, giving her a hug, being very close to her. So really an endorsement of her. Very much an endorsement of her by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, too. She brought Meloni as the only EU head of state to Egypt for a security deal that was signed with Egypt. But she's also endorsed by these far-right parties, and she could find herself in a position, depending on the results that come up at the end of this first weekend in June, as being the bridge between the right and the far-right.

So we're seeing a lot of reconfiguration right now of different parties. The AFD, the German extremist party, was just excluded from its European political group. So we're looking at how that will impact these groups. But we find with Meloni for once, a personality capable of bridging the two. And I think that poses a real problem on key policy issues, migration, climate, and of course, Russia, Ukraine.

And this is all speculation. We're still expecting to see the results. But in a way, the role that these elections have played this time around seems much more important and much more connected to people's lives than the previous elections have. And I guess the universal suffrage element to it is also really important. So it's good that people see these issues and, of course, go to vote. But we're going to see what issues matter to them in 2024, a year where there are many other elections, four billion people, I think, all in the world called to vote this year. So let's see what happens.

Molly Reynolds: That strikes me as a great place to leave it for today. Thank you, Tara. Thank you, Sophie.

Tara Varma: Thank you.

Sophie Roehse: Thank you.

Molly Reynolds: The Lawfare Podcast is produced in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. You can get ad-free versions of this and other Lawfare podcasts by becoming a Lawfare material supporter through our website, You'll also get access to special events and other content available only to our supporters. Please rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts.

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The podcast is edited by Jen Patja and your audio engineer this episode was Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Our theme song is from Alibi Music. As always, thank you for listening.

Molly Reynolds is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. She studies Congress, with an emphasis on how congressional rules and procedure affect domestic policy outcomes.
Tara Varma is a visiting fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe in the Brookings Institution.
Sophie Roehse is a research assistant at Brookings Foreign Policy.

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