Elections are nothing without voters. With 12 months to the next European Parliament elections, European politicians and political parties are approaching the final window of opportunity to engage with citizens and encourage them to make their voices heard, writes Didrik de Schaetzen.
Didrik de Schaetzen is the ALDE Party 2024 Campaign Director.
While European politicians and officials can, and often do, disagree on a range of topics, it can’t be denied that we are living through a period of great uncertainty and rapid change. In these past years, our continent has gone through a public health crisis, economic hardship, social challenges and, of course, a full-scale war that sadly still goes on.
These difficult times understandably have a significant impact on Europeans’ outlook on life. According to research conducted by the ALDE Party across several Member States, angry, anxious and frustrated were among the most common adjectives Europeans used to describe how they feel about the future. Only a tiny minority described themselves as happy.
This is the reality that Europe’s liberals together with other European political parties are faced with. As we all know, voter turnout has been consistently low in the past European elections, with 2019 seeing for the first time an increase in turnout to just above 50 percent. While it is great news that half of those eligible to vote used their right to vote, it also means that half of all possible voters chose not to. And, if we look back to the previous election, it is clear that the world has changed a lot since then, and not all for the better. It would not be wise to assume that past success will necessarily translate into future success.
This lack of engagement from voters is about more than individual parties gaining representatives to the European Parliament. It is about the legitimacy of the elected officials and the policies they implement. If we don’t manage to convince Europeans to make their voices heard when they are presented with the opportunity to do so on an election day, how can we encourage them to shape the future of our continent in a positive way during the five years that follow?
Many Europeans feel disconnected from politics, either because they don’t see how it benefits their daily lives or because they don’t trust their politicians and elected officials to act with their best interests in mind. Moreover, at the European level, the overall complexity of the European Union can make it difficult for people to understand what exactly they are voting for. This is understandable and should force us in the ‘EU Bubble’ to challenge our own set of ideas of what we believe the EU to be.
In the upcoming elections, a large group of people will also be voting for the first time. In some Member States, 16-year-olds are able to cast their vote while others require the voters to be at least 18 years of age. If we don’t take into account the potential of Europe’s youth for the overall election result, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Last year’s European Year of Youth was a great initiative to include young people in policymaking, but if we leave it at that, we will struggle to build the future generation of voters and politicians.
In some ways, it all boils down to trust between voters and politicians. Politicians must show that they are responsive to the needs of their constituents. One way to achieve this is to create more opportunities for citizens to participate in political debates and projects, such as the Conference on the Future of Europe, or the current Manifesto drafting process undertaken by the ALDE Party. This kind of approach not only builds trust but also has the potential to strengthen our democracies by ensuring that decision-making processes are more transparent.
12 months might seem like a long enough time to fix some of these challenges. In reality, we are quickly closing the final window of opportunity before it is too late. After all, as politicians and political parties know, it is not the period of an intense electoral campaign that matters the most but what happens between two consecutive campaigns.
Europe’s liberals will gather in Stockholm to discuss the road towards 2024 at the annual ALDE Party Congress. On our website, you can follow the programme and watch some of the sessions – join us on 26-28 May!