European Politics and Institutions

European Parliament - 'why should I care?'

The European Parliament elections 2014 – Breaking the mould or more of the same?

10 July 2013

German MEP Rebecca Harms, Co-President of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, said she was not sure how the crisis would affect the outcome of the elections, but warned that all those who want deeper political integration of the European Union will have to work hard to deliver their best.

Harms believes the fact that “Europe is everywhere as an issue” (citizens are thinking more about the EU) will be an advantage this time around. But the more they think about it, the more they realise how little they actually know about it, she warned. People feel lost in this strange EU institutional landscape and decision-making process, and this must be taken into account, she argued.

Campaigns must be more effectively and more powerfully personalised, she argued. One way to achieve this would be to have European campaign leaders who are recognisable to citizens throughout Europe, she said.

Having European lists in addition to national lists would make it clear to people that the European Parliament elections are about European issues rather than national politics, the German MEP argued.

 “I can say with confidence that this election isn’t going to be more of the same” because this enormous and protracted economic crisis has caused social disaffection, imperilled the euro currency and called into question the long-term sustainability of the European project, said UK Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff (ALDE).

Duff called for the establishment of transnational lists and genuine federal European political parties, arguing that their absence is a contributing factor to the EU’s “crisis of legitimacy”. Genuine EU political parties could help to connect citizens to the European Parliament and connect the vital debates being held there to the outside world – this gap is “the missing sinew of European democracy,” he argued.

“We have to find a means of speaking to the people and a means for them to speak to us,” said Duff, arguing that European political parties can fulfil this role.

Many people don’t really know what the EU is responsible for, never mind the European Parliament specifically, said Polish MEP Rafał Trzaskowski (European People’s Party), speaking of the difficulty of conveying to people back home in Poland the importance of the EP’s work.

Trzaskowski argued that in most member states, people now consider the EU (and the EP) to be responsible for imposing austerity and for forcing on them too much regulation. 58% of entrepreneurs in Poland claim that the EU makes their lives harder by introducing more regulation, he revealed. They forget that the Single Market is all about deregulation and making it easier to trade across European borders, he said.

The Polish MEP argued that the most pressing concern is to highlight the relevance of the European Parliament, boost citizens’ interest in it, and link the choices that are being made in Brussels to the results of the European elections.

Janis A. Emmanouilidis, Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre, said the crisis suggests that these elections will be different rather than ‘more of the same’, but it remains to be seen just how different they will be: will these elections increase the EU’s democratic legitimacy or not?

The identification of top candidates for the post of European Commission president presents opportunities but also uncertainties, said Emmanouilidis, warning that it will not be easy to find candidates for the position who are recognisable across 28 member states.

The EPC analyst expressed fear that we may end up with a ‘beauty contest’ between the candidates who are most famous across the whole EU, rather than between the best candidates. Many questions remain open: will the best potential candidates agree to run, given the risk of returning home as losers? Given that selecting the Commission president is just one element of a much bigger package of EU ‘top jobs’, what happens if the political parties cannot agree around strong figures? Will we end up with less impressive but less divisive compromise figures instead?

Among the challenges, he warned that the borders are blurred not just between political parties and left and right, but between pro- and anti-EU. He warned against raising false expectations about what the European Parliament can deliver, especially given that it is not the ultimate master of the EU Treaties.

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