The European elections are approaching; only four months are left ahead of us before EU citizens are to vote. The eight direct elections to the European Parliament will be held between May 22-25, across all 28 member states.
These elections are unique in the elections’ history: they are taking place in an environment of growing euro-skepticism, in a time where we witness the rise of anti-European parties and an unprecedented electoral pessimism caused by economic, social and political crises and a recession in the EU. Partly due to these reasons the European elections in 2014 can be crucial for the EU. They can become a test for public perception of the EU.
Unfortunately the public perception of the EU is already not very positive across the member states right now. Dissatisfaction with the political parties is growing.
There is also public pessimism: people do not believe anymore that voting in the EP elections can have a positive impact on their lives. Or that not voting will have any negative consequences for their future. For these reasons it is today that the EU has to act and to take the opportunity to tell its citizens why they need to vote in the European elections. And there are numerous compelling arguments for this.
First of all, a vote in the European elections is very important for the support of the EU’s integrity and the European values amongst the member states. Every citizen of the EU knows how their life has been changed since their member state joined the EU. The process of European integration and the accession to the EU has made a significant impact on the daily life of the citizens. Recent polls show that the majority of EU citizens express a positive opinion about the accession of their countries to the EU.
As for Lithuanians, 80 percent of respondents expressed a positive opinion about the accession of Lithuania to the EU. In general, the process of accession to, and political and economic integration into, the EU has made the life of citizens better and has united them in their diversity. And European values have always played an important role on this integration path.
The values of democracy, rule of law, human rights, freedom and the value of a single currency are the core of the EU’s integrity. These European values shouldn’t be undermined by the dissatisfaction of European citizens with the current economic crisis that the EU is going through now. Quite to the contrary, European values should be supported, promoted and widely spread by the citizen’s participation in the European Parliament elections 2014.
The elections 2014 should become an opportunity for citizens to be mobilized and to be encouraged to express their support of EU values and the EU’s integrity in these difficult times for the EU.
Secondly, the role and the importance of the European Parliament shouldn’t be underestimated by European citizens. The competences of the European Parliament are broad and significant. They can be divided into three major fields: legislative, budgetary and control of the democratic processes. The adoption of community legislation, budgetary power and democratic processes inside each member state have a direct impact on every citizen of the EU.
Everybody is concerned by issues such as unemployment, resolution of the economic crisis, future of the eurozone, reforms of the common agricultural policy, price for mobile and Internet services and other issues. Every citizen acknowledges the positive changes in their life, but often doesn’t know what a tremendous role the European Parliament plays in these processes. The work of the European Parliament remains invisible for many citizens, but its impact shouldn’t be doubted.
The challenges of the citizens’ lives are debated in this institution on a daily basis. The European Parliament is undertaking strong actions against poverty, social exclusion and youth unemployment and is debating growth-oriented measures. Just as an illustration: these actions include, for example, the support of the Youth guarantee and of the Erasmus programs and measures aimed at making working abroad easier for EU citizens.
Furthermore, the European Parliament is doing everything it can in order to help young people to find a job. In the process to find a solution to youth unemployment the EP is consulting not only the experts and politicians, but also those who are directly involved: young people.
In November, for example, the EP was conducting a high level event, the so called Agora event, where the EP had invited young workers and job seekers from across the EU to debate how youth unemployment could be tackled. And there were and are numerous similar events in the premises of the institution.
As to the budgetary competence of the EP: in November the European Parliament and the Council agreed to allocate more assets to economic growth and to the fight against unemployment.
The EP is a key institution in many such actions. That is why the European citizens should know, understand and support the work of the European Parliament. The lack of their knowledge about the European institutions, in particular about the EP, shouldn’t negatively influence their active position in our participatory democracy. They should be aware that the vote in the European elections can have a real impact on their concerns.
Finally, nobody should forget that with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty European citizens have new tools to shape the EU’s policy. EU citizens can use the European citizen’s initiative that empowers them to propose legislation, thus involving them more closely with the EU.
The Lisbon Treaty has also brought the European Parliament and their citizens closer together: with these elections 2014 European citizens can be indirectly involved in electing the President of the European Commission. All these positive changes should be taken into account by the citizens when they will vote in the European elections 2014.
The European elections campaign has recently started. The name of the campaign is “Act. React. Impact.” This motto refers to the on-going work of the Parliament and to the work of each MEP in the EP.
The campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the institution’s work and at improving communication between the EP and its electorate. By voting in the EP elections, European citizens will vote for the future of the EU and will exercise their power in shaping the EU’s policies.
This is the only possibility for the citizens and their representatives to fight together against the common challenges that we all are facing now. Only like that we can become more united. And only like that the impact of our decisions will become real. And the impact that each individual citizens can have is his or her vote in the European elections.
These votes can then influence the political agenda of the next legislative term of the European Parliament. An active European citizenship position should be seen and heard in these 2014 European elections.
This time it’s different for all of us: your voice makes a difference and will definitely be heard by EU decision-makers.
By Justina Vitkauskaite Bernard, a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament