European elections 2014: Different this time?

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After the financial and sovereign debt crisis, state bailouts and budget cuts, the May 2014 European elections are expected to take the pulse of public confidence towards the European Union. For the first time, voters will also indirectly choose the next president of the European Commission, giving citizens a fresh chance to shape the future of Europe.

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Overview

In less than two months, 500 million Europeans will be tasked with choosing their representatives in the European Parliament and define the political direction of the Union. But for the first time, they will also indirectly choose the person who will lead the European Commission, the EU executive, for the following five years.

Faced with allegations that the European institutions lack democratic legitimacy, policymakers have been trying to make the case that “this time it’s different”.

With the entry into force in 2009 of the Lisbon Treaty, the European political parties have pledged to name their candidate for the Commission presidency. The chosen politician will then seek backing in their own country in a similar way to national elections. Political leaders will run the show, casting their shadow over single candidates.

Beyond personalities, the economy will be at the centre stage of national political campaigns. Nearly every national election since the onset of the eurozone crisis in 2010 has been fought between the poles of austerity versus growth policies.

“Far from being national elections these days, national elections have started to become European elections,” said professor Simon Hix, the head of the London School of Economics’ Department of Government.

Increasingly, European economic issues have dominated political discussions in all member states. In Spain, France and Italy, which all have grappled with national elections in the last two years, the government’s handling of the crisis was either praised or punished.

The European elections on 22-25 May will be no different. They will flesh out the debate between a side of Europe that wants to maintain rigorous austerity measures - the centre-right - and another side which favours spreading the fiscal belt-tightening over a longer period of time to boost spending, confidence, growth and reduce unemployment  - the centre-left.

But growing social unrest and unease with both exit strategies threatens to spark populism and push the consensus further in the direction of euroscepticism  and entrenched nationalism.

Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historically low levels. The latest Eurobarometer poll found that a record 60% of Europeans tend not to trust the EU, a number that has more than doubled since 2007, before the onset of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and the ensuing eurozone debt crisis.

“At a time when so many Europeans face unemployment, uncertainty and growing inequality, a sort of European fatigue, has set in, coupled with a lack of understanding: Who does what, who controls whom and what? And where we are heading to?” José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said recently.

Some outgoing MEPs have insisted that Europe is much more than economy and growth. They say that to counter euroscepticism politicians must come up with a new narrative that builds on the common values that bind European citizens together in a globalised world. They advocate for cultural unity.

That narrative is intertwined with the new modus operandi of the European Parliament. In the current legislature, MEPs tried their best to show the growing importance in the only directly elected European body.

In recent years, they have secured restrictions on bankers’ bonuses across Europe, killed a digital antipiracy treaty (ACTA) and rejected a long-term EU budget that they deemed unsatisfactorily small.

The Parliament may have flexed its decision-making muscle, but question remain: have citizens taken note; will they vote to give the Union a greater say in the way European leaders handle their future; will they grasp what’s at stake this time and show up at the polling booth?

To Hix at least one thing is certain: “The political majority that emerges from the elections will not only determine the policies pursued by the European parliament, but also the person who will hold the most powerful executive office in the EU machinery - the Commission president. For the first time these could be genuine ‘European elections,’ the outcome of which will shape European politics for at least the next five years,” he said. 

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Comments

Natalia Fiedziuk's picture

Closing borders is obviously not the answer. One can imagine the conditions Polish people have to face in their home country, if they agree to work in such disgraceful conditions abroad. Over the years, the EU has been increasingly heading towards a closer unity of common values rather than a cooperation based only on economic benefits. We should try to learn from each other and understand one another's needs, as this is the only way to become strong as a unity of nations.

Roelof's picture

Guess what? We're all sick and tired of the EU. All MEP's should be fired. Lets go back to the EEC. Because Brussels, the ECB, the IMF all showed their incompetence.

David Barneby's picture

Roelof
You've got it , absolutely right !!! Shout it from the rooftops !!!
Next year we shall see , with the EP elections , fewer than ever voters , electing ever more eurosceptical MPs .
The EU is a politicians political dream , far removed from a workable reality , as seen with the desperate economic problems of today , that will not go away .
High unemployment that will foster unrest across the region . Germany being accused of making too much money and not sharing it with what is perceived as true EU spirit .
Between the one size that doesn't fit all single currency and EU immigration policy , that welcomes all illegal entrants on humanitarian grounds , the EU will destroy itself .
We should elect Nigel Farage as President of the commission , to close it all down , sack all the MPs and bureaucrats . The EU has destroyed the beautiful , culturally varied Europe that I loved .

Bob Ixlho's picture

Really?!! Guys, stop bullshitting people with your EU obsession.
OUR national economic and social woes are first and foremost a matter of national policies. Back to basics guys, the EU has little to do with the state of Sw or Dk (not in Eurozone) vs. UK , or say AT or FIN (in the Eurozone) vs. IT or SP. So indeed, it might be worth sacking all MPs and bureaucrats at national level before contemplating Brussels which would change little to our domestic woes. Immigration? We are out of Shengen and listening to the Italian folks seems it is the lack of European common actions that is part of the problem. Cultural diversity? How come? May be better to stop buying Starbucks coffee. Farage is a farce. A sad one.

Stephen Huxley's picture

Roelof and David Barneby have got it spot on!
We should elect Nigel Farage as President of the commission - he seems to be the only Politician talking any sense and sticking up for the British people at the moment. The EU the way it is exists only for Germany's benefit - they maintain their balance of payments surplus and keep their economy above water in the crisis at the expense of others - Spain, Italy, Greece all have to run balance of payments deficits as a result. And the CAP is a european subsidy of the French farmers - the whole EU needs reform.
Unity of Nations?! That was never the plan! The EU is like a nieghbourhood watch scheme that has gone badly wrong - yes sure watch out for your neighbours, but we did not agree to handing over the keys to the house, our bank accounts, and being told by which laws we must raise our children by. Skilled , economically beneficial migration ok, but Britain is not a charity.
If the president of the EU is not directly elected, that is not a democracy, that is a dictatorship.
Hitler was an immigrant - so beware - nuff said.

Pargit Rivahni's picture

Amen S. Huxley! Totally agree with you!

Willem, a Dutchman's picture

It is all about ethics. As long it allowed to convert future taxdeductions for Spanish banks into assets on the banks' Balance sheets to withstand the upcoming stresstests, something is structutrally wrong. Other example. Not earlier the posssibility to move the European Parliament to Brussels. Unnecessary costs for the taxpayer untill 2019 betweeen 0.8 and 1.0 billion euro. Billions of subsidies cannot be accounted for.
No wonder distrust under European citizens in Europe.

Eastern European's picture

You see, the problem with the Brits is that they fail to see a human being in this Eastern European who comes to their country for work. It was fine when the immigrant was working hard and keeping the economy going. But when the crisis kicked in, things started to get nasty, somehow the Eastern European has become a burden and an easy scapegoat. As long as the Brits don't see another human being in the Eastern Europeans and treat them with dignity, in the way they deserve, they will have problems with the immigrants. Merry Christmas!

David Barneby's picture

Willem , a Dutchman

With Respect , a slight correction .

The EU has no ethics , just political expediency .

David Barneby's picture

Eastern European
You are shortsighted . Re British seeing Eastern Europeans as not being human , you forget how Britain tried to prevent Germany invading Czechoslovakia and went to war agains Hitler over his invation of Poland .
Britain is an over populated island with a difficult economy to sustain . Britains cannot just cross a border to a neibouring state as can most Europeans .
Britains are required to have a contract for employment before they can work in another country .
Impoverished East Europeans flood in regardless and are happy to work for a fraction of the normal British wage or they benefit from the over generous social security while looking for work . You may be a hard working man who makes a valid contribution to the British economy , but I'm sorry , you have to suffer for the thousands who do not . I have friends in Poland and the Czech Republic and it has concerned me greatly their being lured into the evil clutches of the EU , that has bitten off more than it can chew and is struggling for survival .

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