The European Union is failing to mobilise voters to go to the polls. The overall turnout at the last election was around 40%. It is not expected to shift sharply in the upcoming European Parliament Elections on May 23 to 26.
Who’s responsible: the system, politicians, the media, voters?
During the Democracy Alive festival in Texel, Netherlands, we had the opportunity to ask these questions to some of the candidates for the EU's top job.
Margrethe Vestager, from the liberal grouping ALDE, thinks that the EU is failing to communicate and that many people simply don’t know the Elections are happening. This is partly because of a paradox, she explains, because voting is a private act, but a major impetus to vote is the behaviour of those around you: “If your mother is voting, is very likely that you are voting.”
So she thinks the European Union has a lot of work to do to change this dynamic.
For Bas Eickhout, one of the Greens' candidates, bipartisanism has played a big role in this lack of interest, depicting European politics as a match between pro- Europeans and Populists. He maintains that the different positions among pro-European parties can make a difference in the direction the EU will take, and wants to remind voters that the main parties have been ruling the European Union for the last 25 years and should take responsibility for the lack of interest of voters.
“What matters this time is that for the first time ever, those two blocks probably won’t have the majority alone” and that, he adds, gives an opportunity to do something different.
Eva Maydell, the youngest MEP in the conservative European People’s Party believes that the historic alignment of EPP and PES in the EU Parliament is the result of long negotiations and that people shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of EU politics.
Another factor: the confusion between national and European politics. The EU Election campaign is led by national politicians, often taking the debate to the national arena, instead of explaining the role of the EU, and what they will be doing at the European Parliament.
The European consensus: a benefit or a scourge?
In their book "Wedged: How You Became a Tool of the Partisan Political Establishment, and How to Start Thinking for Yourself Again" political analysts Erik Fogg and Nathaniel Greene explain what they call the "wedge" phenomena: both media and political parties tend to focus on topics that polarise, appealing to our emotions, rather than our reason.
This is why, in every country, political discourse tends to follow classical "wedge" topics - immigration, gay rights, abortion.
But while parties manage to differentiate themselves on a national level, the European Parliament groups have to work on consensus among their own members, obliging them to make general, non-specific pledges. Watch the video to see the impact that can have on voters trying to choose between these groups.