Europeans more interested than ever in EU elections

According to Eurobarometer data, 77% of EU citizens are likely to vote in the European elections – the turnout in 2019 was 51%. In contrast, only 52% of Maltese respondents declared their likelihood to vote.

With elections in over 60 countries around the globe, billions of people are this year being called to choose their representatives and influence the course of their nations.

In authoritarian or semi-authoritarian countries such as Russia, elections are criticised by independent bodies and observers – both in and outside the country – as being neither free no fair; simply a rubber-stamping exercise. In the democratic world, two major elections will take place that will also have a decisive effect on the future of us European citizens, not just for the next few years but for a much longer period: the Presidential election in the United States (5th November) and the European elections (6th-9th June).

The elections that will be held to elect a new European Parliament are certainly not run-of-the-mill, as Jaume Duch Guillot, the European Parliament’s Spokesperson and Director General for Communication, points out. “Many things are at stake; there are many important decisions that can only be taken at the European level,” he told members of the Press from EU member states at a seminar held in Strasbourg on the margins of the March plenary session. The Journal participated in the seminar, titled ‘Safeguarding Democracy: the role of the media in the European Elections 2024’.

The European Parliament’s Spokesperson, Jaume Duch Guillot, exchanging views with members of the European Press during the seminar titled ‘Safeguarding Democracy: the role of the media in the European Elections 2024’.

In the EP’s spokesperson’s own words, the current European Parliament can face the electorate with its head held high. He recalled how, five years ago, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen agreed with Parliament on a legislative programme underpinned by two major pillars: the European Green Deal and the digitilisation of the economy. The European institutions have delivered on both, he noted, despite the huge other challenges that emerged over the past five years: Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, amongst others, with their myriad effects on other sectors.

Jaume Duch Guillot, the European Parliament’s Spokesperson and Director General for Communication.

Despite the complex geopolitical and economic context, the latest Eurobarometer – a series of multi-topic, pan-European surveys undertaken for the European Commission – published last December shows that Europeans continue to value EU membership and remain quite optimistic regarding its future. A large and stable majority of Europeans (72%) think that their country has benefited from EU membership. The main reasons for thinking this are that the EU contributes to maintaining peace and strengthening security, and that membership of the EU improves co-operation between countries of the EU. In Malta, the figure is a staggering 92%.

Taking everything into account, would you say that your country has, on balance, benefited or not from being a member of the EU? (%) – EP Autumn 2023 Survey: Six months before the 2024 European Elections

The same Eurobarometer shows that most Europeans (53%) wish the European Parliament to play a more important role; a majority view in 21 Member States.  Maltese citizens are significantly more enthusiastic about a stronger European Parliament compared to the EU average, with 73% supporting this idea.

Would you personally like to see the European Parliament play a more important or less important role? (%) – EP Autumn 2023 Survey: Six months before the 2024 European Elections

Meanwhile, from another Eurobarometer conducted between 11th January and 15th February to gauge public opinion at the regional level, it transpires that 77% of Europeans are likely to vote in June’s European elections. The actual turnout across the Union in 2019 was 51%. In sharp contrast, only 52% of Maltese respondents declared the likelihood of voting, a figure much lower than the 72.7% turnout for the 2019 European elections. In the December Eurobarometer, published only three months earlier than this one, 70% of the Maltese interviewed had expressed their intention to vote (as opposed to 68% across the EU).

Given the encouraging level of interest among the European citizens for this pan-European election, Jaume Duch Guillot voiced his optimism that in June there will, in fact, be a substantial increase in turnout for the second consecutive time. Five years ago, the turnout increased by more than 8% to almost 51%. That was the first time since 1994 that the number of Europeans who went out to vote surpassed those who did not, he said.

Voter turnout in the European Parliament Elections in the European Union (EU) from 1979 to 2019. Source: Statista 2024

The European Parliament’s spokesperson highlighted the important role of political parties and media in the member states to help citizens understand even better the direct effect of decisions taken at the EU level on their lives and why participation in the democratic exercise to choose the people who will be taking those decisions from July onwards is so important.

Jaume Duch Guillot went on to focus on the enormous challenges that the next European Parliament will face, first and foremost the building of an EU that is underpinned by strategic autonomy. This must be the case not only regarding the bloc’s uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price but also its security and defence needs, in light of the different scenarions that could result from the upcoming presidential election in the US. The EU also need to reduce dependence on third countries to access critical raw materials and technologies. Also high on the agenda will be the question of how to move forward with the EU’s enlargement, specifically regarding the accession of Western Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. A major bone of contention is whether to admit the new countries all at once, similar to the EU’s biggest enlargement in 2024 with ten countries joining simultaneously, or to accept them one by one. The future trajectory of the war in Ukraine and other conflicts remains shrouded in uncertainty, making it difficult to predict their ultimate impact on Europe.

The next batch of MEPs are certainly not in for an easy ride.

The European elections take place in Malta on Saturday, 8th June 2024. Anyone aged 16 or over can cast a vote provided they are registered and included in the rolling Electoral Register to be published by not later than 20th April 2024. Voters in Malta will elect six Members of the European Parliament. More information here.

Main photo: Alexander Becher/EPA

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