European Election Series: eyes on the prize – making Europe go Local

With the European Union elections rapidly approaching, more and more debates on how to bring the EU closer to the hearts of the European citizens and challenge the national-populistic harangue make their way on to the main political stage.

For many years already, it’s been known that there is indeed a poor connection between EU legislators and EU citizens. Statistically, EU voter turnout has decreased with every EU election, from 61.99% in 1979 to only 42.62% in 2014. In 2014 the lowest turnout was in Slovakia, with only 13.05%, and the highest (by no surprise), in Belgium with 89.64%. To explore this matter, it would be the easiest way to say that there might be indeed a poor connection between the ‘EU bubble’ aka Brussels and constituencies affected by its rule. Yet, the lack of interest of the average EU citizen in EU affairs should not be seen only from a top-down perspective.

One of the paradoxes is that the majority of EU citizens consider that the answer to environmental and climate change issues, security, trade, new technologies and digitalisation, unemployment or inequality require European leadership. On the other side, having a look at national elections in many EU countries such as Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, local elections in the Netherlands etc. in the recent years, EU citizens tend to vote for parties promoting populist messages particularly those positioned on the political right.

The fast growth of European populist parties making their way in 11 EU countries can be connected to many external factors that affected the EU in the last decade, such as the financial crisis in Greece, the migration crisis, high rates of unemployment being used by populists against free movement of the working force, economic insecurity, more recently Brexit etc. But, exploring a bit deeper these causes would lead us to a crossroads: the presence of a cultural backlash in Europe which entails the shock or “unpreparedness” some of the EU citizens may feel towards globalisation that brings multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, being so heavily used by populist political parties in their messages asking for more national sovereignty over policy matters in the EU.

But what is being done to inform the EU citizens on the achieved results and the priorities set for the next European Parliament’s mandate?

This time I am voting

A very popular platform launched by the European Parliament ‘This time I am voting’ is encouraging EU citizens not only to vote in these elections, but also to volunteer and encourage others to go to vote. The platform is a non-partisan communication action, independent from any political party and ideology offering diverse engaging information, including information on voting abroad and events taking place in all the EU countries ahead of the elections.

Your vote matters

The European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020) has funded a programme ‘Your vote matters’ which aims at helping EU citizens to engage with the political process and to understand better what the EU has done – How politicians decided on your behalf; and it also helps EU citizens better to match their views with politicians, national parties and EU political groups based on what they actually delivered in the last five years.

Dedicated Eurobarometer survey

A dedicated series of Eurobarometer surveys focuses on Europeans’ attitudes in the run up to the European elections, which is also a tool for the European Parliament to assess public opinion on specific topics ahead of discussions in the Plenary Sessions around different legislative initiatives. The ‘Plenary Insights tool aims to ensure that MEPs are informed on the feedback received from the public regarding the previous EP plenaries, EU policy challenges and the decisions being taken at the time. In this way, it is easier for MEPs to plan their political and communication activities for the next plenary, based on public feedback. This instrument helps to strengthen the dialogue between EU citizens and EU decision makers, so fostering more interaction and direct feedback.

What now? On 19th April the European Parliament enters into recession after its last plenary session in Strasbourg. It is a good moment to reflect upon the achievements this mandate is proud of and what should be the priorities for the next five years that would challenge the current situation across Europe. An informed citizen is the first ingredient for successful elections and ultimately political stability, hence reaching out to citizens is not only the first step in the right direction, but also the final destination.