European election result: Into the new term

On Sunday, May 26, the European elections came to a close. There is good news, but also many uncertainties. A commentary by Klaus Heeger and Hendrik Meerkamp from the CESI General Secretariat.

On the positive side, voter turnout increased to 51%. This is not a brilliant figure, but in fact 10 percentage points more than in the last EU elections –the highest turnout since 1994– and the first time since the beginning of EU election history that the participation increased. Likely, the well-concerted cross-party EU-wide mobilisation campaign #ThisTimeImVoting, to which CESI also contributed, made a positive difference. A similar campaign should be run for the next elections in 5 years to highlight concrete benefits the EU has brought for citizens and workers and to show them why it is important to make use of the right to vote. As a European umbrella confederation, CESI has seen it also as its task to explain the added value and benefits of the EU to its affiliates. And will continue to focus on this.

Also the much-feared flooding of the European Parliament with anti-European forces did not take place. Arguably, large delegations will be incoming in this respect from Italy, the UK and France, only to name a few. However, in total, the share of anti-European forces in the new Parliament has not changed substantially.

And their intention to forge a strong united block in the European Parliament may well fail. They all know what they are against, but will they find common ground on policy responses? The Italian Lega wants a European re-distribution to re-allocate incoming refugees away from Italy. The Rassemblement National opposes. Not a promising basis for real cooperation.

On the negative side (and as was the case in other past European elections), the EU elections were not marked by true European discourses but by persistent national perspectives. What impact will the election have on the stability of the German government? What will the election mean for the future of the (then) Austrian Chancellor Kurz? How will Macron react if the Rassemblement National gets a strong vote in France? Which will be the impact on the next national, regional or municipal-level election? … EU elections and their commenting should also focus on EU political directions, not be merely about their impact on national elections or governments. Work ahead for all of us to change this next time.

Also the extension of Brexit until most probably at least October 31, and the subsequent necessity of an EU election in the UK, did cast a shadow on the EU-wide election exercise. Voting for MEPs who shall be withdrawn in a few months has undermined the credibility of the elections. And as a matter of fact, the EU can no longer afford to focus so much on Brexit. Other challenges need to be addressed, and the work of the European Parliament cannot be inhibited by never-ending institutional uncertainties relating to its composition until the unknown future of Brexit.

A final remark: The heads of states and government should not –especially not in the very first days after the elections– call into question the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’-formula. Any voter who has been following their campaigns would feel being played with. And for those less interested, it will further foster the image of obscure backroom deals made in Brussels. (Needless to say that in that case no one is to blame except the Member States.)

Picture: © European Parliament 2019