Elections boosted belief that Europeans have a voice
Despite the victory of Euroscepticism in the EU elections, more Europeans believe their voice counts in the EU than ever before. EurActiv France reports.
According to a survey by the European Commission (25 July), the image of the European Union has improved.
The Eurobarometer showed clear progress in the wake of the May 2014 elections, which were organised under the slogan “this time is different”. Since the Treaty of Lisbon came into force in 2009, European political groups nominate a candidate for EU Commission president. This created a direct relationship between the results of the EU elections and who will be the helm of the EU executive body in an effort to increase the democratic legitimacy of European institutions.
The survey was carried out after elections that saw Eurosceptic parties triumph across Europe. The Eurobarometer shows that 42% of Europeans consider that their voices were heard. In November 2013, it was only 29%.
42% is the highest percentage since the question was added to the Eurobarometer ten years ago. In France, where the National Front won the elections with 25% of the vote, 54% of people felt that their voices counted, 18% more than last year.
65% of the 32,689 people surveyed felt that they are citizens of the EU, compared to 59% in 2013. 63% of the 1,004 French people felt the same, which is below average but still 6% higher than last year.
Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, in charge of inter-institutional relations and administration, believes that effectively communicating what was at stake in the EU elections definitely played a role. “The many debates around the European elections - not least the Citizens' Dialogues and the 'Spitzenkandidaten' process - have brought Europe closer to its citizens," he said in a press release.
Charles de Marcilly, head of the Robert Schuman Foundation's Brussels office, believes that the media played an important role by providing greater coverage of European affairs during the campaign, and that Europeans made an effort to understand the importance of these elections.
“It is not necessarily a general trend. There a strong differences between countries. In the northern member states there is a more developed European culture, whereas in the southern member states there isn’t a positive image of politics,” he said.
French less confident than EU average
Many Europeans believe that the economic situation of the EU will improve over the next twelve months. For the first time since the financial crisis, more people believe that the impact of the crisis on the job market has reached its peak (47%) than those who think it will worsen (44%).
60% of people in France think the worse is still to come. Just 27% believe that the EU is in the best position to take effective measures to deal with the economic and financial crisis.
“We have been through challenging times but Europe is now turning the corner. Joint efforts at European level to set Europe on the path of economic recovery are starting to pay off,” said Maroš Šefčovič.
The amount of Europeans who support the economic and monetary union with the euro increased to 55% (+3%) compared to November 2013. 36% of those asked said they didn't. 67% of those living in the euro area support the euro (68% in France) compared to 26% who oppose it.
Is the Commission too optimistic?
Charles de Marcilly believes that the Commission’s optimism is partially because it wants to finish off July on a good note. “It is the end of July, the European Commission is being optimistic. It prefers to have its glass half-full. It is a political message before the hectic autumn,” he said.
But de Marcilly has his reservations, and believes that people’s interest in European politics and institutions will still be a major obstacle for the next Commission.
“It is counterproductive to communicate for the sake of it, without backing it up with political drive. The European Union needs opinion formers. During the election campaign we went beyond the institutional aspect, going straight to the countries. The Commission will have to be more political and freer with its message,” he said.
The President of the Commission is elected by the Parliament by a majority of its members, on a proposal of the European Council acting by qualified majority. The choice of the candidate for the Presidency of the Commission should take account of the results of the elections in the European Parliament.
In consultation with the President-elect, the Council then adopts the list of the other Members of the Commission. These people are chosen on the basis of suggestions made by governments. The Commission is subject, as a body, to a vote of approval of the European Parliament. The College of Commissioners is then formally appointed by the European Council acting by qualified majority.
Since the first European elections in 1979, participation rates have not stopped falling. For the May 2014 EU elections, 43.1% of eligible Europeans turned up to vote.
October 2014: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission College as a whole
1 November 2014: target date for new Commission to take office