News / Europe

    As European Elections Loom, Parties Struggle for Attention

    Socialist candidate for European Commission president, Martin Schulz, presents his policy proposals for the next five years during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, May 7, 2014.
    Socialist candidate for European Commission president, Martin Schulz, presents his policy proposals for the next five years during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, May 7, 2014.
    Reuters
    In a little over two weeks, in a vast exercise spread over four days and 28 countries, as many as 350 million Europeans will go to the polls to vote in elections to the European Parliament, the EU's only directly elected body.

    As celebrations of democracy go, it approaches the United States, Brazil or India for scale, at least in terms of numbers - an opportunity for huge swaths of Europe's population to determine who will shape the continent for years to come.

    And yet, despite Europeans having directly elected their own parliament since 1979, there is very little 'buzz' on the streets of Brussels or other EU capitals ahead of the May 22-25 vote. Turnout is expected to fall for the seventh time in a row, dropping to just over 40 percent, pollsters predict.

    That is largely a reflection of the greater importance individuals attach to national politics and parliaments, which tend to have a more direct impact on their lives and whose candidates are more immediately recognizable.

    The European Union, with its glass and steel institutions clustered in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, feels distant to many European voters.

    That sense of detachment has raised questions about the democratic legitimacy of the European project, especially after a prolonged economic crisis when critical decisions were taken behind closed doors by leaders and unelected officials, not by members of parliament - much to parliament's own frustration.

    Popular perceptions of a remote, unaccountable EU elite, combined with years of painful economic austerity, are expected to boost support for far-right, anti-EU political parties in many member states such as France, the Netherlands and Hungary.

    In an effort to close the perception gap and increase the relevance of this election - the first since parliament won more powers under the 2009 Lisbon treaty - leading political parties have nominated a top candidate to become European Commission president, arguably the most influential job in Brussels.

    "For the first time these could be genuine 'European' elections, the outcome of which will shape European politics for at least the next five years," Simon Hix, an EU specialist at the London School of Economics, wrote in an analysis.

    Too close to Europe?

    The candidates from the top four party groups – the center-right EPP, the center-left Socialists & Democrats, the Liberal ALDE group and the Greens - have faced off in a handful of televised debates, with the final one set for May 15.

    Held in English - the second or third language of all the candidates - the debates are a valiant effort to take Europe to the people, but it is a tall order: with 24 official EU languages, it is not easy to generate buzz and draw prime-time viewers in Romania or Spain, let alone eurosceptical Britain.

    What is more, the candidates are hardly household names, and rather than representing a new face for Europe after years of stagnant growth and rising unemployment, they are mostly old-school Europeans closely tied to the work of Brussels.

    The center-right have chosen Jean-Claude Juncker, 59, the former prime minister of Luxembourg and a long-time believer in a more federal Europe, an idea that has lost traction as voters question the goal of ever-closer integration.

    The center-left, who are marginally ahead in most polls, are backing Germany's Martin Schulz, 58, the current president of the European Parliament and an ardent campaigner for more money to be spent helping young people get jobs.

    The Liberal candidate is Guy Verhofstadt, 61, a former prime minister of Belgium and one of the European Parliament's most enthusiastic supporters of deeper integration.

    The Greens are rallying behind Germany's Ska Keller, 32, the only woman in the race and a specialist on migration.

    While Twitter and other social media have helped raise the profile of the election and the candidates this time around - Twitter was not actively used in 2009 - it tends mostly to act as an echo chamber, keeping those who are digitally savvy and actively interested in EU politics plugged in to developments.

    The tens of millions of older voters who do not use social media and do not speak English as a second or third language are largely outside the process, at least until the polls open.

    Further complicating matters, there is no automatic guarantee that any of the four candidates hoping to become Commission president will get the job, which would give them influence over EU legislation and the direction of Europe.

    Ultimately, it is the EU's 28 national leaders who must agree together on a name. The European Parliament will then have to approve their choice by a majority.

    The innovation from the Lisbon treaty is that the leaders have to take into account the results of the European elections in making their choice. If the Socialists win the elections, it will be very hard to ignore their candidate for the Commission.

    All that will only be decided in the wake of the elections, possibly at a summit of EU leaders to be held on May 27, when they will meet for dinner to discuss the poll results.

    In the meantime, the parties will be hoping that more Europeans than in the past actually turn out to vote this month, perhaps giving the elections the legitimacy they crave.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Nielsen's, Sina Weibo Team Up for Closer Look at Chinese Social Media

    US-based rating agency reaches deal with China's Twitter-like service to gauge marketing effectiveness on platform which has more than 200 million users

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora