The EP elections and the fight for democracy

The EP elections and the fight for democracy

21.05.2019 | Taru Haapala

As the European Parliament elections are approaching, we are seeing the introduction of special features not found as such in any national parliamentary elections. More than previously, there are platforms and debates for the presentation of the leading candidates, or Spitzenkandidaten, to the position of European Commission president. Since 2014, these are efforts by the Parliament to seize agenda-setting powers from the executive, the European council of leaders.Spitzenkandidaten are chosen by the Parliament’s transnational groups and put forward as candidates in the public. If there happens to be a favourite with a democratic mandate, the European council might decide not to use its legal right to name the next president of European Commission. Even though a lot of effort has been accorded to arranging the events this year, the debates have not been so well received. Manfred Weber, the top candidate of the largest party group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), chose not to attend the first debate on Monday 29 April.

Prior to national parliamentary elections, typically, you would see the leading politicians of all political parties, even with the smallest percentage of support, competing for their place in all types of media opportunities and TV debates. Despite the efforts to boost publicity, the European Parliament elections are not perceived in the same manner. Understandably, the expectations of politicians and their voters are framed by national parliamentary elections.It might be worthwhile for the candidates of the European Parliament, however, to raise the issue of what European elections are about with the public. It is time to embrace the fact that the European Parliament is a very different kind of political arena than national parliaments, and that the skills and agendas are justifiably different. This will have a positive effect on democracy in the European level.

Traditionally transnational party groups in the European Parliament have found it difficult to form common agendas due to disagreements and national pressures. But for extreme right parties it might not be so difficult, as they are joined by their common urge to block and destroy the workings of the European Parliament. It looks like the ambiguous situation seems to favour the nationalistic and extreme right discourse. Take, for instance, populist far-right parties that are gaining ground in national elections (the Finnish, Swedish, Spanish cases, to name a few) and seeking European wide collaboration. It is a phenomenon that many ignore as just “talk”, as many other transnational party groups in the European Parliament have failed to create common agendas.

The only viable way to fight for democracy and, ultimately save the European Union from disintegration, is to inform the voters about what is at stake. It includes, to large extent, explaining and promoting the special features of European Parliament elections, the exceptionality and benefits of European transnational politics.