European Parliament Elections 2019 and the European demos in the midst of difficult challenges
Anastasia Deligiaouri (Dublin City University)
The European Parliament (EP) is the only institution in the EU, which enjoys a direct election procedure from European citizens. Multilingualism and multiculturalism are both inherent and well embedded in its structure and give the EP its unique character. The members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who are elected every five years, have a substantial impact on policy-making in the EU and consequently, they have a great impact on the EU, the member states and the everyday life of European citizens. The European Parliament elections constitute ‘the moment of people’, ‘the voice of people’, the highest democratic process of European demos and provide the citizens with the opportunity to choose their representatives.
While the European Elections are already running for 40 years since 1979, this year European citizens are called upon to vote while the EU is facing several serious ongoing challenges. Thus, the criticality of these elections is evident and citizens need to realize that their vote will influence answers and responses to these challenges.
To mention some of the challenges, the Brexit decision taken in the 2016 referendum has been followed by long negotiations between the EU and UK bringing forward several anticipated, mostly institutional implications (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=IPOL_IDA(2018)604961) but other implications as well which will naturally have an impact(s) not only for the UK but for the EU and member states. The institutional implications of Brexit in particular regarding the European Parliament, are very important especially when encountering the last development as regards the extension of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU until October 2019 and the recent confirmation of the UK to participate in the upcoming EP Elections. The current landscape raises several legal and political concerns pertaining to the settlement of the final composition of the European Parliament which seems to sit on rather unstable ground. If we consider that along with the different Brexit scenarios over the past few years we have also experienced the rise of populist and far right Euroscepticism -if not anti-European parties- then the importance of these elections for the future of European integration and the European idea, in general, is very high.
The economic recession, which was a hard test for European economic governance architecture coupled with severe policies implemented in several countries, have exacerbated concerns about legitimacy in decision making in the EU and have sometimes brought forward a discomfort from the member states followed by several social reactions. Moreover, some member states have also faced their own internal critical moments, e.g. the claim of independence from Catalonia in Spain that has asked for specific answers regarding EU memberships in these cases. To continue with the puzzling conditions that accompany these elections the hot topic of migration and refugees quota in member states remains a big debate while there is a ‘rule of law backsliding’ recorded and acknowledged in academic research regarding particular member states (http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/23663/)
In addition, these elections and the electoral period are taking place facing another struggle which has emerged during the last years: disinformation, post-truth narratives or simply the crisis of facts and the truth as a concept and social value, which was naturally threatened. Truth, trust in democratic institutions and knowledge are basic factors for a well-functioning democracy and the principle of a free, unconstrained but also well-informed opinion is a premise all democracies are promising and aim to fulfill. To this extent, political communication narratives and the channels they use to reach citizens are critical in informing citizens accurately not only for the challenges they have to respond to with their vote but also for the solutions articulated by different political parties and ideologies in order to address them. Certainly, the media as the main source and provider of information to citizens are key players in this information campaign.
The European Parliament has upgraded competences since the Lisbon Treaty. Among others, the EP is a co-legislator along with the Council of European Union on expanded areas of legislation. The European Parliament has a decisive role in the European annual budget especially in deciding spending priorities and it has a strong say on defining the economic policy of the EU. The EP exercises scrutiny at the Executive, the European Commission, a power which was enriched further with the introduction of the Spitzenkandidaten (or ‘lead candidates’) process, a process first followed in the 2014 Elections. The EP committed to repeating the process and so these elections will at least indicate whether it has now been adopted on a regular basis. Under this procedure, the results of the European elections are a major factor and should be taken into consideration for the appointment of the President of the European Commission (article 17.7 of the TEU). The President and the College of Commissioners have to be approved by the European Parliament. The Spitzenkandidaten process has introduced the electoral competition feature at the EP elections as European political parties appoint their preferred lead candidate for the Presidency of the EC. In this way, they actually enter a competitive electoral process that aims both to inform citizens of the candidates and their basic positions on critical European issues and to strengthen the electoral competition which is believed that will fortify democratic procedures.
Therefore the results of the European Parliament elections will shape the agenda and the decisions for the future of the EU, the Eurozone and Europe in general. The incoming MEPs have to respond to difficult and demanding calls and the composition of the EP and its decisions will literally shape the future of the EU and define the course of European integration and the European Idea in its entirety. These decisions and choices rely on the result of the European Parliament Elections and hence, it is important to underline that citizens need to be aware of the decisive role of these elections. The role of information flow both regarding audience reach and its validity provided by various channels remains a topical issue for citizens and can influence significantly the result. Member states need to demonstrate the importance of the European Parliament Elections and reverse the usual misperception of the European Parliament Elections as a “second-tier” elections or the investment of the European Parliament elections with national connotations although certainly there is a great national interest in their results.
Elections speak to the heart of democracy and European Parliament elections are the most important moment in pan-European representative democracy allowing citizens to have a direct say for European issues. This moment, however, and its importance has to be communicated and explained to the citizens. The European project is always ongoing but these elections will shape the agenda and guide the future of the EU. Participation remains low in European Parliament elections and there is the need to motivate European citizens to voice their preferences with their votes. Motivation, however, should be accompanied with the enhancement of democratic criteria and the rise of awareness regarding the importance of these elections and their impact for current debates and future decisions that will be made. The EU has accomplished many and has the potential to reach further milestones but this can be achieved successfully only when we have a vibrant and responsive European democracy.
The project “PEREDEP” [Promoting E-Rulemaking in the EU through Deliberative Procedures] has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 798502.