EU elections – Why I’m voting this time
With the elections for the European Parliament coming up, we take a closer look at why it is so important for all of us to vote and reflect on what happens if we don’t.
It’s about that time again. You know, the time when we have to go vote for which politician to send to the EU, down there in Brussels. It comes around every five years, so not too often, and you’ve probably been hearing quite a bit about it lately. But there’s a difference isn’t there. Between knowing that you probably should go vote this time and then actually making the effort to go. I know. Even though I work in the EU bubble and believe that despite all it’s flaws, the European project still brings more benefits to each of us than we possibly could get by not being inside, I’ve never voted in an EU-election before. But I digress, this is about the parliament election and my attempt to convince you that going to cast your vote this time might not just be the ‘right thing to do’, but also in your own best interest.
Let’s keep it simple. Right now, there are 8 political groups in the parliament, with the European Peoples Party (EPP) and Socialist and Democrats (S&D) groups being the largest. Together they hold 403 seats out of a total 750. The remaining 347 seats are split out between the rest of the political spectrum, i.e. Conservatives, Greens, Liberals, Lefts, declared Euro-sceptics, and non-affiliated individuals, with the Euro-sceptics growing in numbers at every election. All together this collection of MEPs is supposed to reflect the European citizens aspirations for Europe and are expected to help formulate coming EU law. While this idea on paper is a great principle, in practice it becomes a little more difficult. Without going too deep into the details, it can generally be assumed that if the two largest parties could agree with each other on a proposal, they could vote that through. Or they could try to form a broad coalition of support and get votes through in this way. All pretty standard in politics and the way most countries pass laws. However, imagine now that the two largest parties at the next elections lose a lot of seats, just as many observers fear, and so won’t be able to pass legislation on their own. That would be more democratic you might be thinking, and in some sense I would agree.
However, imagine if you will, having to find a compromise, let alone majority, for a decision among 6 groups who hardly could be further from each other politically and who have very little incentive to work together. Because while we increasingly start to see political parties in national states refusing to cooperate with other parties, there is always a pressure on them do so in the end, because otherwise they’ll potentially do permanent damage to the country and the public will condemn them for it. Yet, in Brussels it works a little differently unfortunately. Because while you may right now be hearing about EU this and EU that, we all know that in a few months, once all this election show is over, EU-matters in national media will once again be relegated to a brief headline and some dull expert interview, mixed in between updates about the latest catastrophe somewhere else and an exclusive interview with the latest winner of the local song/dance/karaoke ‘Star’ show. We can like or dislike that fact, but it’s often the truth and it makes sense because people care about big events and what happens in their near proximity, while at the same time using the European elections more to express discontentment with their national political situation, rather than to express their wish for the future of Europe as a whole. However, that also means that all those politicians sitting in Brussels, who don’t like the other groups and definitely don’t want to cooperate with them, do not have to answer to the EU citizens if they eventually cause lasting damage to the EU, because they EU citizens, who normally should hold them responsible, will not understand nor really care.
Yet, if we look at the election participation figures for the European elections, we see a steady decline, with the 2014 elections managing to only garner 42,61% voter turnout. Fortunately both Denmark and Sweden fall into the 50% voter turnout range, but that is still significantly below national election turnouts. And that’s exactly the problem, because just like our national democracies, the European one only works in the long run if we engage at least a minimum with it. Which means voting every five years. And not just voting for it, but putting in a minimum of effort into looking into which MEP to vote for and keeping in mind that voting for an MEP who is opposed to the whole EU project might not be your best choice. Sure, it will feel good in the moment because you express your disappointment and sense of alienation with the system, but I would ask you to think about that argument just a little bit more. Because if you admit that you do see some benefits to being part of the EU, then why would you vote for someone who’s main goal is to take a salary from that very union that they try to prevent from functioning and make sure that ever fewer laws can be agreed upon in the coming four years. Because I can guarantee you that while there may be some laws you’d have no problem seeing stalled forever in the legal quagmire of Brussels, there are also some that you’d actually quite like making it through. Depending on your interests these could be to have easier access to financial products, better coordination of skills development and training, maintaining free roaming, ensuring proper funding for the Erasmus programs, stronger health and safety for goods and work rules, a unified approach to environmental protection, continued peace in Europe, etc. The list is long, but I’m sure each of us would find something we like in there. And that is my ultimate point. That for all the flaws that we like to point out with the EU project, we also owe it to ourselves to elect who cares about these matters and who will want to build onto the foundation, rather than just making sure no one else can do anything. So, I know that I will for certain vote this time around and I think you should too. If nothing else, then just to have a quick fix of good consciousness for the next five years.