FEPS Fresh Thinking

1. The European election campaign undoubtedly helped the European Union to do an enormous step towards greater politicisation. Nevertheless the European Union is still far away to be a transnational democracy. There was still no unifying topic that mobilised voters across member states.

2. The decision of the PES (Party of European Socialists) after the last elections in 2009 to change from backroom deals of designating candidates for the high profile position was a historical turning point in EU democracy. The binding decision of the PES Congress in Rome to run with a top-candidate changed and personalised the vote.

3. Therefore, the highly respected candidate of the PES, Martin Schulz, was the most outspoken and in the positive sense “aggressive” top-candidate. His campaign – highly personalised, genuinely pan-European and highly relevant to national concerns in his home country – was a forward-looking agenda-setter for a more democratic Europe. He also improved his own credibility in Germany as a European leader and helped so the SPD to be seen as more European than before the campaign.

4. The campaign of Jean Claude Juncker was on the other hand less “aggressive”, underlining the fact that he had been pressured into running for the position. This shows that the overall conservative family do not “buy in” to the post-Lisbon processes and consequently made their campaign less “European”. The candidate also diverged from other conservative national leaders on certain European issue.

5. Personalisation broadened the democratic process and introduced quite substantially “more Europe” into the campaign, especially in Germany, France and Italy but also in Eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria. It would have been helpful to have more support from the media in the transmission of the “presidential debates”. For example, in France, they were not broadcast. The way in which this was set-up has to improve considerably for the next time.

6. However, an overall European enthusiasm was not seen in the campaigns around Europe. In a lot of the member-states the national party continued to campaign on purely national issues, with national campaign posters – like the CDU in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel rather than the top-candidate Jean Claude Juncker – and often on non-EU level topics.

7. Nevertheless, the debates about “more Europe” or about “a more democratic Europe” had a polarising effect. The Eurosceptics tried (hopefully without success) to benefit from their populist rhetoric that it is “Brussels” who is responsible for all the problems we currently face; it is “Brussels” that is bureaucratic, technocratic and hence illegitimate.

8. It was not easy for the pro-European parties to be on the one side critical towards the current political, institutional and democratic set-up and on the other side constructive and open-minded for further steps of integration. The argumentation of the neo-populists to brand non-voters as, by definition, anti-European has to be seen as very dangerous and unsubstantiated.

9. The Campaign showed very clearly that Britain is in a peculiar situation concerning its relationship with Europe. In the UK as in many countries across the EU, the European elections campaign focused on national issues. Additionally, in the UK we saw the odd situation whereby neither of the two top-candidates appeared during the electoral campaign. Due to its awkward relationship with the EU, British voters have not had an opportunity to scrutinise or vote for either of the two as the campaign of the top candidates was not brought to its doorstep, which is a shame because English language dominated in the campaign.

10. It is up to the heads of state to now propose to the European Parliament a candidate for the presidency of the Commission. If they will not take into account the results of the European elections, Europe will face a new crisis of legitimacy. There is hope that all the parties who have proposed top-candidates will stand by their commitment to block the proposal of the Council, in the event that this proposal ignores the democratic mandate given to the Parliament.

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