Europe's fate in the hands of voters

The European elections continue today, Friday, with votes in the Czech Republic and Ireland. For weeks the media have been taking an avid interest in the elections, which are considered decisive for the EU's future. The election marathon began on Thursday and continues until Sunday. Journalists look at which issues are mobilising the 418 million people entitled to vote, and what they should take into account when they cast their ballots.

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The Irish Times (IE) /

A vote about values

EU citizens have the choice between two fundamentally different approaches to European policy, the Irish Times surmises:

“The populist parties - currently spread across three political groupings in the parliament - may be divided on many issues, from economic policy to relations with Russia, but they agree on enough to pose a serious threat to the broad liberal-democratic consensus that underpins the EU. That makes for a clear choice. This election is a contest between those who uphold the idea of a liberal, open, social and progressive Europe and those who reject those values in favour of what Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban calls 'illiberal democracy'.”

El País (ES) /

Outside the EU people know what's what

It's above all outside the EU that people are aware of how important this vote is is, Jaume Duch, the spokesperson of the European Parliament, laments in El País:

“Given the rise of countries like China, India, Indonesia and Brazil, by 2030 only Germany and France may still belong to the group of the world's top eight economies. By 2050 perhaps only Germany - bringing up the rear. The EU as a union, by contrast, would occupy third place. ... Sadly it seems that people outside the EU are more familiar with all this data than those within it. It is no mere coincidence that at this moment Steve Bannon is trying to organise a far-right front in Europe, or that foreign powers are flooding our social networks with fake news, but the confirmation that the result of the upcoming European elections will transcend the boundaries of the European Parliament and have direct consequences for the union's future.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Europeans suddenly more aware of Europe

Despite all the problems Europe faces Deutschlandfunk is not worred about the future of the EU:

“For the first time we've had a European election campaign that was more than just the sum of national agendas. For the first time the problems that were hashed out all have one thing in common: they can only be solved in the context of the EU: climate change, migration, the role of Europeans in an increasingly hostile world. According to all the polls voter turnout will be significantly higher than it was five years ago. And there was also much more interest in the televised debates between lead candidates than there was in 2014. These are all signs that the EU is becoming increasingly anchored in the Europeans' consciousness as a political benchmark.”

Politiken (DK) /

From bee protection to roaming: all the EU does

EU policy has improved Europeans' lives in very concrete ways, Politiken stresses:

“With the so-called General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) the European Parliament has shown that it protects our private lives far better than most national parliaments and all the US tech giants. And we have the majority in the European Parliament to thank for the fact that using our mobiles in Europe has become cheaper than it was in the past. What's more, the EU Parliament is fighting resolutely against pesticides that no doubt pose a threat to our bees and ecosystem. In a nutshell: the European Parliament makes a huge difference.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Lead candidate principle counterproductive

De Standaard notes the low voter turnout in Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday and finds it understandable:

“In a classic democracy the composition of parliament determines the composition of the government. So by voting you know you are influencing who will govern you. The composition of the European Commission, however, has nothing to do with that of the European Parliament. The lead candidate system is an attempt to counter this problem, but it seems to have had the opposite effect. Because it creates the impression that everything has been negotiated and fixed in advance. If the European Commission reflected the political situation in the Parliament rather than that in the member states, a lot would be gained.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

As tasteless as unsalted noodles

Columnist Takis Theodoropoulos also believes EU citizens' opinion of the EU isn't the best and makes the following comparison in Kathimerini:

“For average voters European politics is about as tasty as hospital food: necessary for the treatment but tasteless. They eat it because they have no choice. At least that's what the doctor says. And he knows things the patients don't, he knows what their bodies need better than they do. The mindset that results in such unsalted vermicelli inspires their awe, but turns their stomach. Nevertheless they're forced to swallow it. That makes them even more angry, so that they can hardly wait to escape from the boredom of the sickroom.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Eurosceptics not in the majority

Political scientists Isabelle Guinaudeau and Tinette Schnatterer of the French research institute CNRS share the results of a study on Euroscepticism in Le Monde:

“What has changed is the degree of mobilisation and the strength of the opponents to European integration. ... Nevertheless, our data shows that up to now there is no majority against European integration - not even in Britain. ... As a result, what's at stake in Sunday's elections is perhaps less to contain a radical Euroscepticism, which is probably less pronounced than one might think, than to take seriously the different criticisms of the system and to propose political alternatives at the European level.”

The Spectator (GB) /

Bannon has failed miserably in Europe

The Spectator analyses why Trump's ex-chief strategist hasn't managed to significantly influence the political discourse in Europe so far:

“Bannon, however, has found out that running a European political campaign is a lot different than managing one in America. The rules of the road largely prevent Bannon from financing populist politicians in many of the EU member states he wanted to operate in. ... Many big-name nationalist Europeans prefer to go their own way and are concerned about the optics of taking direction from an American. ... Others aren't especially happy with melding European far-right politics with Trumpism given the president's deep unpopularity on the continent.”

Der Nordschleswiger (DK) /

Not a good outlook for minorities

Minorities may have a harder time in Europe after the elections to the European Parliament, Der Nordschleswiger fears:

“Seldom have the European elections been so exciting. Particularly from the point of view of minorities, including the German minority in Nordschleswig. Because the once scattered and feuding group of parties that can be assigned to the far right have turned into a genuine alternative for the pro-European democracies. They want a Europe of competing nation states once more, where minorities don't fit into the picture - or only as scapegoats or enemy stereotypes. ... In many places the minorities could face even harder times because of the rise of cultural nationalists in national parliaments in the coming years.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Voters believe their votes are useless

Communications expert Nelly Garnier explains in Le Figaro why so few French voters turn out for the European elections:

“Whereas political life at the national level is structured by established political trends and conflicts between the majority and the opposition, the functioning of the European Union is constructed around each country's representation and a culture of compromise. Our representatives in Strasbourg join a semi-circle without a political majority and are thus condemned to form alliances to pass laws. And it all takes place in a complex process of co-decision making with the Council of the European Union. For French citizens it's practically impossible to understand how their votes affect the workings of the European Parliament.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Parties should cultivate their differences

The pro-European parties shouldn't confine themselves to fighting the populists, writes journalist Günter Bannas in Deutschlandfunk:

“Can, should the election campaign be reduced to the confrontation between pro-Europeans and anti-Europeans? Should the pro-European parties set aside their political differences and form a broad pro-European front? They shouldn't. They should and must present their various concepts of politics and of Europe - as an election campaign among Democrats requires. Parties live from their differences - within the European Union and beyond national borders.”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

Macron is anything but progressive

Last summer French President Emmanuel Macron cast the upcoming European elections as a contest between progressives and nationalists. But his policies are far from progressive, Le Quotidien criticises:

“The progressivism of the man who sees himself as a rampart against the 'nationalist plague' in Europe consists in rolling back public and individual freedoms, shifting to the right on immigration, adopting an economic policy that favours the well-off while disdaining the lower classes (those 'people who are nothing'). ... In light of its taking as its figurehead a 21st-century Margaret Thatcher one has to ask: Is European progressivism dead?”

Népszava (HU) /

Europe must remain a place of peace

The left-wing daily Népszava advises voters to cast their ballot against nationalism:

“All those who vote should be aware that they really are deciding Europe's future. Because this is not a fight between those who support immigration and those who are against it, but between the authoritarian nationalist and populist forces and the democrats. It's about whether Europe remains what it is: a place where nations and national cultures coexist peacefully and enrich each other and which won't become a fundamentalist Christian society.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Eurosceptics dangerous even without alliances

Helsingin Sanomat warns against underestimating the influence of the populists in the European Parliament:

“We fail to recognise the possibilities of these groups if we write them off as incapable of working together. Because they don't need to join forces. It will suffice if every now and then the Eurosceptics find some common ground, for example on immigration or questions that pertain to traditional values, for them to put stones in the path of the European machinery. If the power of the pro-EU groups shrinks, the EU opponents will have to be wooed for decisions to be made. In this way their demands will gradually be adopted by the other groups and silently become more and more socially acceptable.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Pragmatism is convincing

Pragmatism and not emotions should be the watchword in the European election campaign, Die Presse urges:

“We progress together, but only when it brings results. That's how it's been since the very start. The EU was created to facilitate the union of the German and French coal and steel industry, as a pragmatically motivated economic union aimed at safeguarding peace. And all of the EU's tangible successes are rooted in this pragmatism. There are some very clever people in Brussels who understand this. They know that the Europeans want to see concrete successes, which can also help at the grass-roots level when people talk about politics over a pint of beer. Here are a few arguments for dyed-in-the-wool Austrians: 'Do you want to have to exchange money again? Do you want to pay roaming fees? Do you want to say goodbye to compensation for delayed flights?”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

EU needs more dissension

The Tages-Anzeiger rejects one common accusation against the EU:

“The EU's problem is not that there's too much dissension, but that there's too little. ... The payback for the gaping disparity between EU aspirations and EU reality is the rise of anti-EU parties from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. But what people tend to forget is that the EU is convincing precisely in those areas where, after tough negotiations, it produces solutions that only a community of states can produce and that create advantages for individual citizens in the member states. The single market is undoubtedly in the foreground here. Joint education and research projects too, but also a common response to the attacks of the US Internet giants on our personal data.”

Die Presse (AT) /

The end of the power cartel

Die Presse is delighted that for the first time Europe's large parties will have to share their power and influence:

“Ever since the European Parliament has been directly elected it's been firmly in the hands of the European People's Party and the Social Democrats. Since 1979 they've been sharing the power, the posts and the EU funds in a way that is particularly apparent in the case of the parliamentary president: for two and a half years the post goes to the EPP, then it goes to the Social Democrats. Then new elections are held and the whole process is repeated. But that will all come to an end on May 26. The People's Party and the Social Democrats will no longer have an absolute majority. ... Friends of the EU and parliamentary democracy should welcome the end of this power duopoly. Because it will strengthen the Parliament's legitimacy by taking the wind out of the sails of those who say (not entirely without reason) that it's a clique of Christian and Social Democrats.”

Polityka (PL) /

Established parties remain strong

Warnings about the demise of the established parties are exaggerated, Polityka believes:

“A simulation of the distribution of seats gives Europe enthusiasts cause for moderate optimism. Despite numerous crises and the Brexit, the European Union appears to be a stronger organism than many had predicted. The polls also bolster trust in the Europeans themselves who, even though they're turning away from the mainstream parties, are not about to plunge into anti-European populism and often seek out other solutions for themselves. It is also clear that the more expressive leaders of the political centre are gaining importance. They remain at the forefront despite their losses, and will decide what form Europe takes over the next four years.”

Turun Sanomat (FI) /

Commission will also become more critical of EU

The EU Commission, too, will not remain unaffected by the rise of populist forces in the EU Parliament, Turun Sanomat predicts:

“When power is fragmented it's all the more difficult to secure a stable majority for decisions. ... The rise of populist and Eurosceptic forces will also be reflected in the composition of the Commission. It's likely that there will be more Eurosceptic commissioners in the next Commission. No doubt the election of the Commission President will also be more complicated if it's harder to find a parliamentary majority for the candidates.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Populists shattering political balance

Columnist Osvaldo Mingotto explains in Corriere del Ticino why the populists will pose a threat to Europe even if they don't win the elections in May:

“It's about deciding whether the European project continues or is destroyed by the prevalence of nationalist politicians. ... If we add up the votes of the various populist parties in EU countries and project this onto the European elections, it's clear that the populists will have a certain clout. Much will then depend on the tactics of the alliances. Most likely the nationalist parties, the Eurosceptics and the populists will remain a minority. But they now threaten to create the same political fragmentation in Europe that they have already produced in the parliaments of several EU countries.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

No sign of unity

Europe's leading powers are failing to recognise the geopolitical dangers, criticises Ulrich Speck in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“Apparently the new challenges - the shift in relations with America, Russia's aggression, China's pursuit of dominance - are leading not to more but to less unity among the most important players. Europe is struggling to reposition itself in this era of a new competition among the major powers. As convincing as the mantra that only by acting jointly can Europe's interests be defended, this is barely visible in political practice. The motto here is every man for himself. Each country is trying in its own way to make sense of the geopolitical changes, to protect itself against new threats and to seize new opportunities in its own favour.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Lack of politicians with guts and true stature

Jutarnji list sees Europe suffering above all from a lack of good leaders:

“The problem of the EU, as is becoming clear in this election campaign, is a lack of true leaders. With the departure of Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel from the political stage this shortage will become even more apparent. Too few politicians are defending the principles that for a long time formed the basic values of the European Union. And those who are swayed by public opinion to give up these principles are not true leaders. ... In future the EU's strength will depend on how well it succeeds in defending its values and overcoming its divisions.”