Comment: 2014 European Parliament elections – Europe will decide, but will Romanians?

The European Parliament elections are nearing, scheduled for May this year (May 25 in Romania), yet there seems to be little or almost no interest in the topic expressed in the Romanian news. The majority of the candidate lists have not yet been announced.

The currently biggest fraction, European People’s Party, is waiting until March to announce its candidates. As the topic will keep trending in the months to come, let’s go over some of the related concerns, including to what extent will Romanians have their say.

The 2014 – 2019 term will surely bring a lot of challenges to the European Union – in what way will the European integrations process continue, will the Union extend over the Balkan region? What about Turkey? What political changes will we witness in Ukraine? How should the Union tackle the ongoing crisis, diminish its detrimental impact on the economy and most importantly, prevent it from happening again?

What about youth unemployment, foreign policy, banking crisis or further harmonization of internal market? The next pace will entail a lot of challenges as we are currently faced with a dilemma – should we proceed further with the process of European integration? Or rather work on strengthening the Union before we decide to deepen it further?

As European citizens, we are conferred a right to actually have a say on these issues, by electing a fraction that best represents our views. Even though the European Parliament does not have the right of legislative initiative, it has a right to ask the European Commission to submit the legislative proposals. In such a way, the European Parliament holds a powerful and important right that should be wisely delegated to the right people. It is hence crucial to partake in the European elections – to help steer the direction that the EU will undertake in the next five years.

The primal problem with European Parliament elections in Eastern European countries is that these EU citizens do not feel the need to participate in this process. A significant part of the electorate neglects the elections is because they do not consider the work of the European Parliament to be important enough and therefore, not worth a bother.

It may appear to them that the matters discussed in Brussels are too far from the problems of an average Pole or Romanian, for example. Whereas others simply do not understand how the European Parliament and other EU institutions work, therefore they decide it is better to abstain from voting than cast a misinformed vote.

Whatever the reasons, the statistics don’t lie – in the 2009 EP elections only 27.67 percent of Romanian population decided to cast a vote. Without a doubt, it is an extremely low number. Smaller participation rates were only registered in Slovakia (19.64 percent), Lithuania (21 percent) and Poland (24.5 percent). Meanwhile, the EU average was set at 43 percent with the highest rates being recorded in Belgium and Luxembourg (both at 90 percent; although citizens of these two countries together with Greeks and Cypriots are obliged to vote). The voting rates were also very high in Malta (79 percent), Italy (65 percent) or Denmark (60 percent) where there is no imposition on citizens to participate in elections. (Data obtained from: Anthoula Malkopoulou, Lost Votes: Participation in EU elections and the case for compulsory voting, available at: http://www.ceps.eu/files/book/1886.pdf)

What do those numbers tell us about the level of pro-European awareness in Eastern European countries? That we still do not realize that European politics should concern us and that politics will continue to exercise increasing impact on our daily lives. The majority of decisions made in Brussels will be, sooner or later, implemented in some, if not all, of 28 member states.

During a recent plenary session in Strasbourg MEPs have voted on acts concerning the following issues: copyright reform, LGBT rights, air passenger rights or insider dealings and market manipulations, just to mention a few. Once in power, these will most definitely affect national politics and legislation and what results from it, they will affect us. The problem with the legislative changes imposed by the European institutions is that they may take years to be phrased, decided upon and finally implemented.

But let’s not let that obscure the big picture – taking part in the European elections is equally important as participation in national or local ones. But somehow, for 2012 Romanian legislative elections the turnout was estimated at almost 41.76 percent – not a dazzling number but still a 14 percentage points higher turnout than for the EP elections. Note that 14 percent of Romanian population equals 3 million people!

So why is there such a discrepancy between the participation in national and European elections? It is an EU-wide trend, majorly caused by the simple fact that some people decide not to participate in the European elections because of their lack of knowledge about the candidates or a general lack of information regarding the work and competences of the EU institutions, Parliament included.

In such situations, Internet comes very handy – there are several websites recently created by independent organizations and NGOs that aim to encourage and help the electorate decide what party they should cast their vote for.

My personal favorite is MyVote2014.eu where by answering questions on 15 different issues that have been recently discussed in the EP, you can easily identify a MEP and a fraction that best matches your opinions. You have a choice of selecting the answers of MEPs from your country only so that you can get an easy and pain-free indication on who shares your views.

Another useful website is VoteWatch.eu where you can check the activity of MEPs as well as identify their votes from the past plenary sessions – handy tool especially for those who want to check how productively have the MEPs that were chosen in 2009 spent their time in Brussels (more on this here).

Finally, there is one last point worth addressing – it is no secret that in the EU, Romania has a reputation of a laggard. Regardless if this opinion is correct or not, it’s worth to consider voting in order to send a strong Romanian representation to Brussels that would work on diminishing the negative effects of that stereotype.

But in order to promote Romania well in Brussels, it is crucial to send people who are capable and qualified to advocate it well. So with that last thought in mind, remember to choose your candidates wisely and hopefully see you at the ballot box on May 25!

The European Parliament is the only EU institution elected by universal suffrage. The European Parliament, together with Council of the European Union and the European Commission, exercise legislative power over the EU. After the elections in May 2014, there will be 751 MEPs (including the President); 32 of them will be elected by the Romanian citizens and EU expats currently residing in Romania. Expats residing in Romania have the same voting rights as Romanians and will be choosing from the same list of Romanian candidates (not national candidates).

By Zuzanna Kurek, guest writer

Romania Insider
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