Mar 22, 2024

Europe’s Vote, Europe’s Future

The European Parliament elections in June will be the most consequential yet.

Members of the EU Parliament vote during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Starsbourg, France June 13, 2023.
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It’s perhaps not a good sign if you have to explain to voters why voting matters. In the case of the European Parliament, which was long perceived as an inconsequential body, low turnouts and a propensity to use elections for protest votes, spoke of a basic disconnect.

Not anymore. As the European Union’s election website says, the parliament, which divides its time between Strasbourg and Brussels, “adopts laws that affect everyone: large countries and small communities, powerful companies and young start-ups, the global and the local.” The upcoming elections on June 6 to 9 will be the most consequential yet—and of great importance when it comes to setting the European Union’s future course. 

Polls predict a rightward shift. The nationalist populists, the New Right and far right assembled in the European Conservatives and Reformer (ECR) and the Identity & Democracy (ID) groups—which include Marine Le Pen’s France’s Rassemblement National (RN) and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)—are in for gains.

Unfortunately, centrist parties are reacting by ramping up anti-immigration rhetoric, which always tends to help the extremists. But there is still time to turn the tide, including in Germany, and to dampen the false lure of the extremists. So there is at least some hope that voters may think twice this time, given what’s at stake. As Dave Keating points out in our cover section, a “protest vote for the far right may make voters feel good in June. But it may not feel so good in a year’s time.”

The center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the grouping of which is the political home of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, may face tricky decisions in the future, argue Raphal Bossong and Nicolai von Ondarza. Yet, there’s a good chance that the center will hold in Europe. Shahin Vallée, meanwhile, makes the case for using the election campaign for a more honest and forward-looking debate about the EU’s future financial architecture. Without changes, Europe is headed for a fiscal cliff, he argues.

The next European Parliament is one piece in the puzzle of the EU’s future; the way its member states interact to forge a common future is another. The current Franco-German falling-out over Ukraine strategy is putting the question of who leads Europe and how center stage. Jana Puglierin and Jacob Ross approach it from the opposite sides, focusing on Paris and Berlin respectively. And John Kampfner points to the current “UK-size hole” when it comes to organizing Europe’s future security.

It's a cliché to argue, as one of the EU’s founders, Jean Monnet, predicted, that “Europe will be forged in crisis.” Cliché or not, the crisis has certainly arrived. Now voters—and policymakers—must rise to the occasion.

Henning Hoff is Executive Editor of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK QUARTERLY.

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