The 2019 EU elections

This is a series of analyses produced by the Atlantic Council on the European parliamentary elections.

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Europe’s Most Important Election

By Benjamin Haddad

The European Union (EU) is entering campaign season. Between May 23 and 26, every EU member state will vote to elect the 705 members of the European Parliament, one of the key Brussels institutions alongside the European Commission and the European Council of heads of states. Ever since the first direct election by EU citizens in 1979, European parliamentary elections have often failed to excite voters. The EU legislative process is complex and Brussels seems remote to many. National parties have often used the opportunity to recycle losers of national elections or distance annoying opponents. “In Brussels No One Can Hear You Scream” was the title of a Borgen episode in which the fictional Danish prime minister “promotes” her main rival to the European Commission.

This time is different.

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Europe’s Unsettling Parliamentary Elections: A View from Spain

By Ana Palacio

Since the first European parliamentary elections in 1979, and notwithstanding the growing powers of the Parliament, the prevailing impression these contests have left has been boredom, almost afterthoughts. Progressively declining voter turnout cycle after cycle drove home this point. Efforts to make the elections more relevant, like the establishment of the spitzenkandidaten system linking the results to the selection of the president of the European Commission, made hardly a blip. This year, however, the elections to be held between May 23 and 26 have gone from barely relevant to disquieting.

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Euroscepticism and Populism to Gain in Dutch Representation in the European Parliament

By Bart Oosterveld

As is the case elsewhere on the European continent, parties away from the political center are expected to perform quite well in the European parliamentary elections in the Netherlands on May 23. With twenty-six seats in the European Parliament allocated to the Netherlands, polls in recent weeks have suggested that around five will be won by the far-right populist, Eurosceptic Forum voor Democratie (Forum for Democracy or FvD), a party that did not contend in the last European elections in 2014. This is not unusual. Fringe parties tend to perform better in European elections than in the national elections, as seen in the 2012 general elections and subsequent European elections in 2014. A similar cycle could take place this time, as the European elections follow the general elections of 2017.

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EU Parliamentary Elections: What to Expect in France

By Benjamin Haddad

On May 26, French voters will choose between thirty-four lists on a nationwide proportional ballot in the European Union (EU) parliamentary elections. Historically, European elections have failed to sustain public attention, suffering from parties treating it as an afterthought (often recycling losers from national elections) and the complex and distant nature of European institutions. In 2014, French voter turnout in the EU elections was 42 percent, a far cry from the 78 percent of the first round of the 2017 presidential election. For these reasons, European elections have generally been a godsend for extremist forces.

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European Elections Are a Win, of Sorts, for Greece

By Katerina Sokou

In Greece, European parliamentary elections on May 26 are being viewed as a litmus test ahead of national elections later this year. Domestic politics have dominated the debate and the opposition has framed the election as a referendum against the government. The fact that European elections are to be held at the same time as local elections for mayors and regional governors has further obscured European issues.

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Why Europe’s Election Matters in Poland

By Katarzyna Pisarska

The European parliamentary elections in Poland, which are expected to draw a record turnout, will set the stage for national parliamentary elections in the fall. The election will be a vote of confidence in the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and reveal the level of public support for two competing visions for the future of Europe: an integrationist, open, and solidarity-driven Europe or a conservative “Christian” Europe of sovereign states.

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The Importance of Hungary’s European Election

By Anna Juhos

In polls conducted in 2014 and 2018, 60 percent and 80 percent of Hungarians, respectively, said they consider themselves to be citizens of the European Union (EU). Nevertheless, Hungary had less than 30 percent voter turnout in the European parliamentary elections in 2014. In 2019, a year after Hungary’s center-right Fidesz party decisively won the national elections for the third consecutive time, there are two reasons why Hungarians should be more involved in the European elections on May 26: this election will determine the place of Hungary’s parties in the European political spectrum and the outcome will have consequences for Hungary’s municipal elections in the fall.

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Strong Support for the EU in Sweden Ahead of European Elections

By Anna Wieslander

Support for the European Union (EU) remains high in Sweden. Recent polls show that while 65 percent of Swedes support EU membership, only 19 percent would like Sweden to leave the Union. As a result of this strong public support, Sweden’s two most Eurosceptic parties, the Left Party (part of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left or GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament) and the Swedish Democrats (part of the European Conservatives and Reformists  or ECR group in the European Parliament), have abandoned their demand that Sweden ought to leave the EU, instead saying that they would work from inside the Union to shift it in their desired direction.

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Here’s What to Expect from Germany’s European Vote

By Jörn Fleck

Continuing the recent domestic trend of political fragmentation, the parties of Germany’s ruling “grand coalition”—German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and her junior partners of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD)—are expected to lose significant shares of the vote in the European elections later this month compared to 2014. However, the outcome of the election in the European Union’s largest economy and most populous member state will not impact Germany’s broadly pro-European Union (EU) positions and strategy in significant ways.

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Italy’s Salvini Will be the Man to Watch in the European Parliamentary Elections

By Emiliano Alessandri

With European Parliament elections fast approaching, Italy is on the verge of a political crisis—but it has nothing to do with Europe. Neither the right-wing League nor the anti-establishment Five Star Movement—the two partners of the unlikely populist coalition that has ruled Italy since 2018—has made Europe the focus of their campaigns, albeit both having fueled anti-EU sentiments in recent years.

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Bullseye on Brussels: Can EU Defeat Disinformation in Parliamentary Elections?

By Teri Schultz

The vast amount of foreign meddling in the 2016 US presidential election was a wakeup call for the European Union (EU). It was obvious the next big target of malign actors would be Europe, with twenty-eight countries electing more than 750 lawmakers in May 2019.

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Image: Members of the European Parliament participated in a voting session in Strasbourg, France, on March 26. (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)