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“Complacency is not an option for those whose choice is open and liberal democracy” – prospects of the upcoming European elections

This time we're voting! ©European Union 2014 - European Parliament (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A must-read for everyone who is still doubting whether to go and vote in the upcoming elections. The EU is facing many threats today under whose implications the Parliament elections will take place. A booklet by the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe, comprising an address delivered by Pat Cox entitled “a European Parliament election of consequence”, highlights these problems and enlarges on their consequences for the whole of Europe. Read my book review here.

In my daily life, most people I communicate with are not aware of the upcoming European Parliament elections in May. Some do not even know that there is a European body that can be directly elected. Similarly, a survey by the European Parliament states that only 48% of European citizens believe that their voice counts in the EU. Yet, voting in the European elections means having a say on the direction the Union takes for the next five years in areas such as security, fighting climate change, and economic growth – policies that shape your daily life.

A booklet by the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe, comprising an address delivered by Pat Cox entitled “a European Parliament election of consequence”, clearly highlights these problems and enlarges on their consequences for the whole of Europe. Mr. Cox delivered the address in Florence on 23rd November 2018 at the conference “40 years of European Parliament direct elections” organised at the European University Institute, an international centre for doctorate and post-doctorate studies and research

Pat Cox was the former President of the European Parliament and the European Movement International, an association that coordinates the efforts of associations and national councils with the goal of promoting European integration. Since 2015, Mr. Cox serves as President of the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe which supports initiatives dedicated to the construction of European unity.

Content of the address – Challenges and call for action
Mr. Cox begins his address with a reference to Europe’s history and the values that the European Union has been built upon. He then goes into describing the threats that the Union is facing today and under whose implications the European Parliament elections will take place, such as rising nationalist sentiments, migration and Brexit.

According to Mr. Cox, the upcoming elections are facing several problems, including low voter turnouts, popular unfamiliarity with the elected members of Parliament, the fact that election topics and personalities remain an outcome of local or national interests instead of pan-European, and the disagreement across member states concerning topics such as migration and defence. Moreover, Mr. Cox describes a general challenging of politics that has led to “fundamental values of liberal democracy, truths many thought we held to be eternal, [being] stress-tested too often for comfort inside our Union” (p.10). According to him, politics are not about left versus right anymore, but about open versus closed and pluralist democracies versus illiberal majoritarianism.

Lastly, Mr. Cox also gives an outlook on the upcoming Parliament elections. According to him, power distributions will most probably be relocated from a decade-long duopoly by the EPP (European People’s Party, centre-right & pro-European) and S&D (Socialists and Democrats, centre-left) towards a three- or four-party oligopoly and the growth of new parties of the centre and extreme right and left wing parties. He concludes his speech with calling upon the people to remember the continent’s history and to “not turn the clock back” (p.14).

I can countenance being governed by those who are slightly left or slightly right, slightly liberal or slightly green but I cannot countenance living under those who are only slightly democratic.

The battleground for 2019
In my opinion, the booklet should be read by everyone who is still doubting whether to go and vote in the upcoming elections. It highlights the problem of current developments towards a more aggressive, less fact-based, and more fragmented public discourse on various topics and the need to react upon these. It also gives an interesting outlook on possible developments, the impacts of the Parliament elections, and what is at stake.

The address presupposes a certain level of familiarity with the workings and history of the European Union and as such, might not be easily to understand completely by the broader public. A solution to the anonymity of members of the Parliament in forms of a common electoral law, for example, is barely explained further – probably due to time constraints imposed by the nature of a speech.

However, the address is a strong call to owe responsibility to our history and become active in safeguarding what has been achieved by European integration and not to let illiberal and nationalist developments slowly intrude our lives. As Mr. Cox puts it: “I can countenance being governed by those who are slightly left or slightly right, slightly liberal or slightly green but I cannot countenance living under those who are only slightly democratic. This for me is the battleground for 2019.”

Further information
For anyone interested in learning more about the Parliament elections on 23-26 May, the website this time I’m voting offers useful information, including nearby events. To know more about what the EU has done for you and your region, check out the website what Europe does for me. And for an all-round information about the elections, check out the Union’s press kit that is updated regularly.

Text by Alena Bieling, picture ©European Union 2014 – European Parliament (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). This article was first published on AEJ-Belgium.