by Joren Selleslaghs. Originally published on 2014/01/26
This is part two of the twofold article on the upcomming European Parliament elections. In our previous article, we have seen that voting for the EP’s elections did not make that much of a difference for the last three decades and a half, as the EU lacks accountability and a proper democratic representation (system). Why then, should we go out and vote this time?
First of all, the EP elections of 2014 will be the first one since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. With this treaty, the EP has acquired more legislative and budgetary powers, and now co-legislates in almost all EU policy fields. Also, the EP can now legislate in 40 new fields, ranging from agriculture to energy policy and immigration. If the institution for which you are voting for has recently gained a lot more powers, the stakes become higher to have your voice also represented.
Secondly, and very much linked to the first one, as the Europeans would go out and vote properly seeing the increased importance of the EP, it would become easier for the (future) MEP’s to take the true pulse of the European citizens and echo their voices properly. The MEP’s will be able to have firmer stances on certain issues as they feel backed by the democratic legitimacy provided by over 500 million Europeans, and (political/policy) choices can easier be made based on the outcomes of the elections as these would indeed truly represent the ‘people’s ‘ wish. In this sense, the democratic deficit and poor representation problem could (at least partially) be dealt with, and the EU as a whole would increase its democratic legitimacy too.
Thirdly, the EU has never been as unpopular as it is right now. In the context of soaring youth unemployment and economic stagnation, the European public tends to see the EU more and more as a ‘problem’ rather than a ‘solution’ for the contemporary troubles that Europe encounters. This could result in a wave of successful Eurosceptic and nationalist campaigning and trigger even more people to go to the ballots just to cast their ‘protest vote’. In turn, the populist and Eurosceptic bloc within the European parliament would become even stronger. One can wonder if such a configuration is indeed a truly representation of the Europeans’ will and in order to avoid this kind of (possible) miss-representation, all Europeans should go out and vote, so that the end results of the European elections truly represent what the majority of EU’s citizens want as to give the EP a strong democratic legitimation to work properly.
Finally, voting is also important as it appears that this time, your vote will (re)shape the Europeans political landscape. For the first time in the EU’s history, your vote will determine who will become the next European Commission’s president. With the treaty of Lisbon, it is now the European Parliament who will choose one of the most powerful persons within the EU (be it on the proposal of the European Council) and this accordingly to the outcome of the EP’s elections. In the same trend, the EU’s political parties will all put forward their ‘candidate’ for the Commissions presidency, which raises the stakes of the European elections considerably as it will ‘personalize’ and ‘Europeanize’ the upcoming campaigns and elections.
In that sense, there will also be a clear(er) link between the outcome of the EP’s elections and the execution branch of the EU’s polity, which would introduce the principle of accountability. If the Commission (or at least its president) would not deliver as expected, it will simply not be able to get reelected in future. Equally, as it brings the Commission and the EU at large closer to its constituencies, it will enforce its democratic legitimacy and solve (at least partially again) the previously described problem of miss-representation.
The question now is of course whether or not the previous stated reasons are significant enough to get a bigger share of the European citizens to vote and/or (at least) to get a European debate started about whom (not) to elect during the upcoming European elections. Part of the answer lays in the hands of the different political parties across Europe: how serious will they bring the issue to their constituencies and how serious will they propose and campaign their candidate for the presidency of the Commission and put forward a truly European program?
About the author: Joren Selleslaghs is currently a student in EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies at the College of Europe in Bruges. Prior to that, he graduated from the Universities of Brussels and Corsica and conducted internships at the Belgian Mission towards the EU, the European Parliament and the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.