Think tanks: EU elections could get 'pretty ugly'

Laurens Cerulus, Euractiv, 11.09.2013

Interview

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The European Parliament launched its information campaign for the May 2014 elections with a promise that "this time, it’s different". EurActiv  asked four of the continent's blue-sky thinkers whether it really is, and whether falling voter turnouts could be reversed if so.

Question: The EU elections in May 2014 will be the first ones to be held under the Lisbon Treaty framework. How will it be different from the previous seven?

Janis Emmanouilidis: Well, it certainly will be different. First of all, we live under different circumstances. The eurozone crisis has created more attention for EU affairs. People are more interested and there is an open question on the rightness or wrongness of the response to this crisis by EU decision makers. Secondly, the Lisbon Treaty urges European parties to put forward top candidates for the position of Commission president. This increases the likelihood of people paying attention: they will have the impression that their vote can really make a difference.

Question: Are the European parties and their candidates able to carry such a pan-European campaign?

Janis Emmanouilidis: Pan-European campaigns also risk becoming the results of the lowest common denominator: it is possible the European parties won’t agree on common campaign issues, or won’t tackle the most difficult questions. For example, on the issue of banking union there is a huge divide, not only between member states but within political parties of the same group as well.

Question: Do these elections risk becoming a ‘referendum on Europe’, in which the debate is limited to a pro-Europe versus anti-Europe discussion?

Janis Emmanouilidis: I wouldn’t oppose such a discussion, since the EU needs to have this debate. Politicians across Europe need to openly discuss this issue with those who have a different opinion on it. It also means the pro-European side will have to come up with strong proposals and arguments.

Question: With a lack of support for the EU on the rise: how big is the chance for a surge in eurosceptic votes?

Janis Emmanouilidis: The disapproval of the EU and the eurozone crisis have already fostered anti-EU, anti-euro movements. So there is a good chance that these eurosceptic tendencies will have an impact in May. However, the European Parliament will be able to work with a higher number of eurosceptic MEPs. They probably won’t form a coherent group.

Question: What type of information campaign should the Parliament put forward to help raise citizen’s attention?

Janis Emmanouilidis: They could showcase two elements. First, the top candidates and the effect this will have on the position for European Commission president. Secondly, that people’s votes can in fact make a difference, for example to how the EU handles the eurozone crisis. But it is difficult to convince people, since many still feel the EP doesn’t have much impact.

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