Every citizen of any of the 27 EU member states should be able to vote for any other EU citizen up for election. This is what the European Union stands for — all of us being equal, Damian Boeselager writes.
A year before the European elections, anti-EU parties are on the rise again.
In their upcoming campaigns, they will try to convince people that the EU is far away and that Europeans are better off without it.
And, of course, they will point towards the seemingly opaque decision-making procedures of a confusing technocratic government: how was European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen elected? What are the EU government's main building blocks? Who sits in the European Parliament?
Many people don't know the answers to these questions. I admit that before becoming politically active, I would not have been able to name a single European Parliament member.
Today, I am still aware of how little people my age know about the European Union.
However, I believe this is as much an issue of trust as it is one of knowledge. Even if many of us do not know the national system well, we often still trust it more than what some see as the "obscure corridors of power" in Brussels.
So how can we bridge this gap?
Crises don't care for borders
First, global trends make the need for European cooperation more pressing, and recent events have shown that us standing together is elementary to all of us.
Europe has finally seen that national politics are not enough to handle crises that don't know of or care for borders between our nations.
In fact, we have learned that European citizens in Lithuania can be just as affected by the same emergency as those in Portugal, for example.
Over the past decades, a European financial and banking crisis, a refugee emergency, a devastating pandemic, Russia's all-out war against Ukraine, and climate-related disasters have made national answers look less relevant.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments rushed to help each other, for example, at the border of France and Germany. Nurses from Romania were deployed to Italy amid the worst peak of the pandemic.
But it was the EU that ensured borders remained open for essential goods such as pharmaceutical products, masks, and food.
And it was the EU — with the approval of national health ministers — that ensured we have vaccines produced and distributed across the continent.
After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, our union showed unprecedented solidarity and goodwill toward Ukrainians, our fellow Europeans who are still not a part of our union — at least for now.
The bad habit of stealing the union's thunder
However, the bad habit of national politicians taking credit for EU achievements and blaming national mistakes on Europe stands against this trend. I personally experienced this in my negotiations for the BlueCard visa programme.
We updated this visa —a special residence permit issued to highly qualified foreign workers — on the EU level to be more attractive to IT personnel and to allow for more freedom of movement.
But just this month, the German government marketed these improvements as part of their new "skilled migration package".
We should not be surprised if people don't know about the achievements of the EU if everyone on the national level actively tries to hide them. And usually, the belief in our union pays the price.
The EU is all about everyone being equal
Elections play a crucial role in building trust between politicians and their voters.
That's why I worked on a new law for the EU elections to strengthen that bond. With a couple of other people, I supported the idea that we shouldn't only vote for national parties but also get the choice of who we want to support on the European level.
After all, the European factions form the powerhouses in the European Parliament and decide on many important issues. They should be held accountable with our vote.
This idea that became known as "transnational lists" would also have additional positive side effects where European political parties would gain further visibility, we could have multiple nationalities on the same party list, and we could measure the success of the European parties against their election promises.
People would be able to have their say on whether they want a more conservative or progressive Europe, regardless of whether they like their national conservative or progressive party or not.
And most importantly: every citizen of any of the 27 EU member states could vote for any other EU citizen up for election.
This is what the European Union stands for — all of us being equal. In fact, it embodies the promise of the "European dream" we all believe in.
We need to work together as one united continent
That's why it's a shame that our idea of European lists has been stalled among the 27 relevant national ministers.
Some people argue that an additional vote for European lists would only create seats for representatives who are too far away from voters and the issues that matter to them the most.
But let's be honest: would another 28 MEPs — on top of the existing 705 — coming from member states other than those of their voters be different compared to the existing European parties wielding power in the European Parliament when it comes to responsibility and accountability?
I honestly think it's quite the opposite. As voters would become more involved by the nature of the fact that they would be made to choose their representative at the European level, they would also be inclined to demand more clarity and presence from European politicians and administration.
Europeanisation of elections could bring a much-needed more profound understanding of the union's functioning, its past, present, and future, and could further the fact that we need to work together as one united continent.
It is sad that due to national party interests, our European democracy operates well below its potential.
As an MEP, I can promise to continue to fight for a better European democracy — and after the next elections, I am confident we will have additional friends in the house to make an even bigger difference and try and bring fellow Europeans closer again.
Damian Boeselager (Greens/EFA) is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).
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