How is the European Union perceived, from Rome to Oslo, via Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Prague? On the occasion of the renewal of the European Parliament, six experts respond. By Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, Lund University; Gioacchino Garofoli, Università degli Studi dell’Insubria; Jacques Paulus Koenis, Maastricht University; John Erik Fossum, University of Oslo; Kai Arzheimer, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and Vít Hloušek, Masaryk University
Czech Republic: Eurosceptic, but not in a hurry to leave
Vít Hloušek, Masaryk University, Brno.
Very Eurosceptic when it joined in 2004, the Czech Republic is still critical today of the European Union. According to a survey conducted last April by the Czech Public Opinion Research Center, only 36% of those surveyed said they were satisfied with EU membership, while 32% “rather trust” in the EU. EU and 38% of voters trust the European Parliament. Nevertheless, despite these doubts, 62% of respondents believe that their country should remain in the EU.
For a long time, the Eurosceptic parties have dominated the debate. In the lower house of parliament, the right-wing Freedom and Direct Democracy party occupies 11% of the seats, with the moderate Eurosceptic parties (Civic Democratic Party, Communists, ANO) controlling 59% – leaving the pro-EU only 30 %.
Another specificity, the rate of abstention to European is generally extremely high: in 2014, only 18.2% of registered voters went to the polls.
The campaign did not really start until three weeks before May 26, election date. The main topic on the agenda is the desired reform of the EU, usually presented in a very blurry way. The programs have been getting closer to European issues since 2004, but the parties do not recognize the real issues of the European Parliament or ignore them.
The debates focus first on national issues, then on those of the EU. In terms of immigration and terrorism, Eurosceptics will surely play on the concerns of voters. So far, only the parties already in the Chamber of Deputies seemed to have chances to win seats “there” in this far-off place that is Brussels.
Germany: Europhile heart of Europe beats slower
Kai Arzheimer, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz.
In 2019, Germany remains one of Europhiles’ leading lights in the EU. Only the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right radical party, can be considered Eurosceptic. And again: his program mentions a series of tests that the EU should reject before the AfD can move forward on the path of a “Dexit” (an exit from Germany from the EU). Party leaders have even changed their minds about Germany’s membership in the EU, moving from a “negative” to a “neutral” opinion on the semi-official application of the German government’s voting instructions – the Wahl-o-mat.de – a few days after it goes online.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the Greens are carrying out a campaign in support of the EU, spearheaded by two prominent MEPs: Ska Keller and Sven Giegold. The campaigns of the other parties are more discreet and reflect their general ideology. Everyone agrees that the EU is a good thing. Parties hammer their usual key messages, advocating for better redistribution of resources, more liberalism or, simply, the same thing better … Without more details.
To encourage voters to go to the polls, 10 of the 16 Länder – the German Federal States – hold local elections on the same day as the European elections. Judging by the posters, the first might well overshadow the seconds.
If we trust the polls, the results of the European elections should reflect those of the recent regional polls and the current political climate: the CDU-CSU alliance (right Christian Democrat) would reap 30% of the votes, the Greens and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) should get 15 to 20% each, the FDP (liberal-democratic party) and Die Linke (extreme left party), 7% each.
AfD support has remained steady at between 10 and 14 percent for months. In the case of Germany, the rumors of a far-reaching rebellion against the EU led by the extreme right therefore seem only exaggerations.
Italy: Today’s fragmented founding state
Gioacchino Garofoli, University of Insubria, Varese.
In 1957, Italy was one of the six founding members of the future European Economic Community (EEC). At the time, the Mediterranean was more Europhile than others: in 1998, 73% of Italians still had a favorable opinion of the EU. However, the economic crisis of 2007-2008 transformed most of the transalpine citizens into eurosceptics: in 2018, only 36% of Italians declared themselves in favor of the EU.
The main concerns of Italians today are immigration (66%), youth unemployment (60%) and the country’s economic situation (57%).
Last February, the two main anti-European parties or movements, the League (Lega) and the Five-Star Movement (M5S), won the parliamentary elections. These two parties are more sovereignist than ephobic. Leaving the euro area or the Union is not part of their programs. Support for the M5S has also been reduced, destabilizing the government. On the other side, Nicola Zingaretti, new elected leader of the Democratic Party (center-left), is more Europhile but is struggling to gather on a large scale.
Apart from political parties, social and cultural movements seek to mobilize citizens and develop the concept of a social Europe, more federal and united, which would reduce inequalities and guarantee the fundamental rights of all. These mobilisations across the networks – at the city level, but also at the level of the regions and at European level, should theoretically fill the perceived “democratic deficit” vis-à-vis the EU.
The Netherlands: the eruption of populism in the liberal majority
Jacques Paulus Koenis, University of Maastricht.
The Netherlands is still suffering the consequences of the meteoric rise of Thierry Baudet and his Forum for Democracy (FvD), the newest member of the Dutch populist party family. The Forum won the largest number of votes in the provincial election in March, standing at the post of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
The FvD is even overshadowing Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party (PVV), which is likely to win a large number of votes in the European elections.
Despite the outcome of the March poll, public opinion is more favorable to the EU than five years ago, seeming to want to rely more on Brussels to find solutions to issues such as migration flows. climate change and the feeling of insecurity.
It is striking that the call for “Nexit” (an exit from the Netherlands from the EU) is heard much less often today than in previous European elections. Even populist Thierry Baudet does not make it a priority. It is his climate-skeptical positions that attract more attention.
Centrist parties like the VVD and the CDA (Christian Democrats) are more Europhile. In his speeches abroad, Prime Minister Mark Rutte claims his pride in being European. In front of the Dutch Parliament, on the other hand, he affirms that the European elections have only “little interest”, not to give too much ground to the populists.
Mr Rutte’s VVD is expected to win the majority of votes, followed by Thierry Baudet’s FVD and GroenLinks, Bas Eickhout’s ecologist party which, along with Germany’s Ska Keller, is one of the Spitzenkandidaten (top of the list) European Greens.
Frans Timmermans, the candidate of the Social Democrats, will get in his country only few votes, because the Labor Party is very weakened. On the other hand, he can hope to collect votes across Europe because he is the Spitzenkandidat of the Party of European Socialists (PES).
Sweden: Young people for the environment
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, University of Lund.
The protection of the environment and the fight against climate change are at the center of Swedish voters’ concerns, according to the latest opinion polls. The subject was put on the scene by Greta Thunberg, a teenager now known around the world, but also because of the many forest fires that devastated the country last year.
Interest in the environment is not recent in Sweden. In previous European elections, this issue was already among the top five concerns of citizens. Second and third, they would like to see the EU tackle the problem of refugees and the fight against terrorism and crime.
According to the latest polls, one-third of Swedish voters have not yet chosen their side. Participation is expected to be larger (around 58%) this year than in 2014 (51%), partly because of climate concerns. An essential problem for the youngest, who will surely be numerous to vote. According to a poll by the Novus Institute, 66% of 18-29 year olds trust the EU, more than the entire population: 59% according to the Eurobarometer).
Although the Greens are heralds of the protection of the environment, their party seems to be losing ground with only 11% of voting intentions (a 4% decrease compared to 2014). However, the price of the “biggest loss of voters” goes to the Liberals: they slide below the 4% mark, with only 3.6% of voting intentions. For the first time since 1999, this Europhile party risks not getting any seat in the European Parliament.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the Democrats of Sweden, an anti-immigration and Eurosceptic party, expect 16.9% of voting intentions, 7% more than in 2014, when they won two seats in Parliament European.
Norway: “Impacted” spectators on the ballot
John Erik Fossum, University of Oslo.
Norway is not a member of the European Union and therefore does not elect representatives to parliament. Nevertheless, two factors make these elections an important event for the country. First of all, more than 7% of its residents are EU citizens and therefore have the right to vote. Secondly, Norway is part of the European Economic Area and is therefore concerned by 75% of EU directives.
The main media in the country frequently refer to some of the leading players in the European political scene, including Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Viktor Orban. On the other hand, apart from the German Manfred Weber, president of the European People’s Party, almost no MEP receives the slightest attention in Norway.
Finally, the lack of direct representation in Parliament influences the commitment and the nature of the debates around elections. Norwegian political parties do not fight in an electoral context. This is reflected in the irregular coverage of the Norwegian media, disconnected from the parliamentary election cycle.
The absence of opinion polls amplifies this feeling. Norwegians feel they are being kept out of the countryside. They therefore do not feel able to send representatives to Brussels, and are therefore reduced to the role of spectators of the events to come, which will however have an impact on their country not insignificant.