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European elections: the countdown begins. Brussels’ challenge to populists

The EU Parliament started the campaign for the elections of May 23-26 2019. Tajani: a competition between Europeanists and those who intend to foil 70 years of EU integration. Eurobarometer: only a third of all citizens know the date of the 2019 elections. Issues of general interest include the fight on terrorism, youth unemployment and immigration.

365… , 364…, 363… The countdown ahead of the elections for the renewal of the EU Parliament, scheduled to take place May 23 to 26 2019, has begun.  A wide scale campaign has kicked-off in Brussels with two goals. The first is to bring citizens to the polls, as they are likely to desert European and national elections; the second is to make clear that the EU concretely benefits its citizens, families and enterprises and thus it’s worthwhile supporting political parties that truly believe in political integration.

Political challenge. “The next European elections will undoubtedly be a battle, not just between the traditional parties of the Right, Left and Centre but between those who believe in the benefits of continued cooperation and integration at EU level and those who would undo what has been achieved over the last 70 years”, said the president of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani. “According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, although 50% of Europeans are interested in European elections, only one in three knows when they will take place”, Tajani said.

“By May next year, no-one should be unaware either of the date or of the stark choices to be made about the future direction of our continent.”

Democratic mobilization and a warning against nationalistic parties and populist simplifications.

After Brexit. Next year’s Parliament size will be reduced from 751 to 705 elected representatives, owing to the seats freed by the UK. Moreover, with next year’s elections voters will contribute to indentify the future president of the EU Commission. “Over the next 12 months, the debate on Europe’s future will engage citizens at national and local levels right across the continent”, is the wish expressed in Brussels. Information on the upcoming European elections is available on the official website www.europarl.europa.eu. The intent, as the voting date draws near (each EU Country  may decide on the exact election day within the predetermined period, applying the electoral system they prefer), is to transmit the added value of the EU in all areas of Community competence, namely, structural funds, investments for economic growth and employment, agriculture and environmental protection, consumer protection, along with ongoing projects and EU achievements in a number of fields: research, education, culture, defence… Unsolved problems have emerged, such as the management of immigrant inflows or the joint fight on terrorism. Also in this case the intention is to raise public awareness on the effectiveness of common action compared to efforts carried out at national level.

What are the benefits? In April Eurobarometer published the latest survey commissioned by the European Parliament, one year ahead of the European ballot with interviews to a sample of 27 thousand citizens.

According to the final report, 60% of citizens believe that the EU membership of their country “is a good thing.”

In addition, 67% of respondents “think that their country has benefited from being a member of the EU. This is the highest score recorded for this indicator since 1983. At EU level, almost a third of respondents know the date of the European elections in 2019. “On the whole, the method of linking European Parliament elections by having each major political group in Parliament nominating their candidate for Commission President prior to the Parliamentary elections is seen as a positive development for European democracy”, states the Eurobarometer Report. Almost 50% of respondents “said it would encourage them to go to vote in the next European elections.” Almost 70% of respondents “want it to go together with a real debate on European issues and the future of the EU.” Do citizens truly intend to get engaged in a debate on Europe? How much do they know about EU institutions, procedures, and responsibilities?

Primary issues. When asked to enlist EU election campaigns priority topics, 49% of European citizens cited the fight against terrorism, followed by ‘combating youth unemployment’ (48%), immigration (45%), economy and growth (42%). Differences remain across EU Countries. Euroscepticism is widespread, although it registers greater support in Mediterranean (notably Italy and Greece) and East European Countries. The risk is that a majority sitting in the European Parliament of 2019-2024 will be people who don’t believe in Europe.

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