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Alessandra Cardaci

Scott Magalich
Paula Rettl
Marlene Schüsseler

The European Elections: Towards Pan-European Politics?

Sciences Po Paris Team Project’s Research Paper in cooperation with Atelier Europe
Master European Affairs, 2013/14

Presented at Sciences Po Paris on Friday, 16
May 2014

Table of Contents

Introduction p. 4

Part I. The European Parliament and its Election:
Origins, Functioning and a Comparison with the National Dimension p. 5-9

A Historical Perspective: the Rise of the European Parliament’s Powers
and the Birth of the European Elections p. 5-6

The European Party System and the Functioning of the European Elections p. 6-7

A Comparison between National and European Elections p. 7-9

Part II. Five EU Member States Compared: a Qualitative Research Analysis p. 10

France p. 10-14

Germany p. 14-20

Italy p. 21-25

Portugal p. 25-30

United Kingdom p. 30-33

Conclusion p. 33-36

Appendix p. 37-40

Bibliography p. 41-46

ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)
AfD (Alternative für Deutschland)
ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)
ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik
B.E. (Bloco de Esquerda)
CDU/CSU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands/Christlich Soziale Union Deutschlands)
CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern)
EC (European Commission )
ECB (European Central Bank)
ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists)
ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community)
EEC (European Economic Community)
EFD (Europe of Freedom and Democracy group)
EFD (Europe of Freedom and Democracy)
EP (European Parliament)
EPP (European People’s Party)
EU (European Union)
Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community)
FFP (Freie Demokratische Partei)
FN (Front National)
GUE/NGL ( Gauche unitaire européenne/Nordic Green Left)
IMF (International Monetary Fund)
MEPs (Members of the European Parliament)
MS (Member States)
NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands)
P5S (Movimento Cinque Stelle)
PCP-PEV (Partido Comunista Portugês/Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes”)
PD (Partito Democratico)
PdL (Popolo delle Libertà)
PND (Partido Nova Democracia)
PS (Parti Socialiste)
PS (Partido Socialista)
PSD (Partido Social Democrata)
RTP (Rádio Televisão de Portugal)
S&D (Alliance of Socialists and Democrats)
SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands)
TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)
UK (United Kingdom)
UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party)
ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire)


The democratic dimension of the European integration is largely seen as being quite
ambiguous. Indeed, even if there have been only a limited number of doubts about the economic
efficiency of the European Union (EU) so far, since the beginning of the crisis many increasingly
question the validity of the European project, not only for its economic dimension, but even more for
its democratic legitimacy (Follesdal & Hix, 2006). The official and unique body of direct
representation of European citizens at the EU level is the European Parliament (EP); and the only
means the European voters can express their political will is through European elections (Norris, 1997:
110). Therefore, studying the role of the EP, the development and the impact of the European elections
in different Member States (MS) with a comparative approach is fundamentally important not only to
see if we can identify “pan-European politics” but also to reflect upon the so-called “democratic
deficit” of the EU.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the following research questions:

Considering the next 2014 European elections, is it possible to identify a genuinely pan-European
(and thus transnational) democratic debate? It is possible to envisage pan-European politics in the
next future?

With “pan-European politics” we imply a widespread, transnational European democratic
debate, and thus the reproduction at the EU level of political feelings, behaviours and attitudes we
normally see at the national level.

We define “elections” by using two aspects covered by Nohlen (2010: 1):

“Elections can be defined in two ways: first, in technical terms as instruments for forming
institutions or choosing individuals for office; second, in axiological terms as instruments for
democracy, which enable political participation and involve citizens in political decision-
making processes by allowing them to choose representatives and governmental authorities to
ensure their systematic responsiveness to matters of public interest and opinions.”

The first part of this paper will present the origins and functioning of the EP as opposed to the
national dimension. In particular, we will see the “birth” of the European elections, the evolution of
the EP’s powers, the working of the EP, and finally, the so-called “second order elections” as opposed
to the national ones. The second part of this paper will entail a case study analysis of five MS, namely
France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom (UK), by presenting interviews of
academics and politicians, monitoring national media and presenting several polls. Lastly, we will
conclude our study by commenting the results collected for the countries examined and thus answering
to our initial research questions.

We are aware that “political scientists generally emphasize that elections are not sufficient evidence of
democracy [… and that] they are a method, possibly applied without a democratic value and functions” (Nohlen,
2010: 1). However, in this context, we believe that studying European elections can be a reliable way to grasp
the democratic strength of the EU.

Part I. The European Parliament and its Election: Origins, Functioning and a Comparison with
the National Dimension

A Historical Perspective: the Rise of the European Parliament’s Powers and the Birth of the
European Elections

When the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established
by the Treaty of Paris in 1951 the ECSC MS faced an institutional problem that was until then
unknown. Traditionally, international organisations were based on the principle of national
sovereignty, which allowed their MS to pronounce a veto in case of a disagreement. However, the
Schuman Plan aimed at overcoming such veto blockades by creating the powerful supranational High
Authority. Hence, the need for institutions to hold the High Authority accountable emerged. After
numerous negotiations, the ECSC MS decided to establish the Common Assembly and the Council.
As the creation of the latter increased the chances of national governments to impose their national
economic interests at the European level, the Council was considered to be an institution of utmost
importance. The Common Assembly, by contrast, was only supposed to solve the High Authority’s
legitimacy problem. It was composed of delegates appointed by the MS’ national parliaments and did
not have any legislative or policy-influencing powers (Rittberger, 2012: 24-27)

In 1957, the Common Assembly of the ECSC was expanded to cover the two Communities
established by the Treaty of Rome: the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European
Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). One year later, it met for the first time as the “European
Parliamentary Assembly” (EP, 2014: 1). The Treaty of Rome already contained provisions on the
direct elections of the European Parliamentary Assembly, but it did not specify when such elections
should take place. Considering that the European integration project focused mainly on economic
integration, holding direct elections was not seen as a priority at the time. Thus, national delegates’
decision taken in 1962 to rename the European Parliamentary Assembly “European Parliament” in
order to accelerate the transition to direct elections did not trigger the desired consequences (European
Communities, 2009: 33-37).

It was only when a crisis emerged in the European integration process that the interest in the
EP’s direct elections was renewed. From the mid-1960s onwards, it became clear that the European
integration project suffered from a deeply rooted legitimacy problem. The introduction of qualified
majority voting in the Council had limited the accountability of national governments towards their
parliaments. This situation stood in contrast to the democratic principles upheld by the MS, and so the
EP was considered to be a solution to the European democratic deficit. The first European elections by
direct universal suffrage took place in 1979, and were perceived as a revolutionary event with a
turnout of almost 63%. Since then, European elections have been held every five years (Ibid).

After its first direct election in 1979 and even slightly before, the EP experienced a slow but
continuous increase in powers in the style of a national parliament. When the European Communities’
annual budgetary procedure was reformed in 1970 and 1975, the EP was given important budgetary
rights (Hix & Høyland, 2011: 222-224). With the introduction of the cooperation procedure by the
Single European Act (SEA) in 1987, which allowed the EP to influence a legislative proposal in the
second reading, the EP gained real legislative powers. Moreover, the newly introduced assent
procedure required the EP’s approval in order for the Council to take any decisions. In 1993, the
Maastricht Treaty extended the use of the assent procedure and replaced the cooperation procedure

with the co-decision procedure putting the EP on equal footing with the Council in the legislative
process. The Amsterdam Treaty (1999) then reformed and extended the co-decision procedure. The
latter was finally established as the ordinary legislative procedure by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 thus
extending bicameral decision-making to nearly all areas of EU law (Ibid: 52-54).

Despite its significant increase in powers over time, the EP differs from national parliaments
in a very important aspect. In most democratic systems, the leader of the party that wins the national
elections becomes the head of the executive (Ibid: 130). This has not been the case at the European
level so far but it will change in the upcoming European elections in May 2014. These elections are
the first ones to be held since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, according to which the EP
should elect the President of the European Commission (EC) on the basis of a proposition made by the
European Council and in the light of the European election results.

The European Party System and the Functioning of the European Elections

The EP is currently made up of 766 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)
representing each of the 28 MS. Germany has the most MEPs with 99, followed by France at 74, then
Italy and the UK at 73 each while Portugal has 22 MEPs. In the next 2014 elections, 751 MEPs
(including the President) will be elected, with 96 for Germany, 74 for France, 73 for each Italy and
UK, and 21 for Portugal (Fondation Robert Schuman, 2014). Elections for the parliament are held
every five years, with the last one taking place in 2009. European elections in the 28 MS do not take
place on the same day and are not centrally organised; rather the MS can choose how to go about
managing their election. There are some common guidelines, such as the electoral system must be
proportional representation, with the threshold to get into the Parliament not exceeding 5%. Most MS
take the form of one constituency in the election; however some may divide the country up into
several constituencies. In 2009, Germany had 16, the UK 12, France 8 and Italy had 5. Generally the
minimum voting age across the EU is 18, except for Austria where it is 16, and European citizens have
the right to vote in the elections in whichever MS they currently reside, even if it is not their native
country (EP, 2013). Besides these differences, the elections in the different MS can also differ on the
obligation to vote or not to vote (Belgium being an example where it is compulsory to vote), and the
kinds of campaigns that can be ran (Cautrès, 2013). Table 1 summarising the different ways the
elections are organised in 25 of the MS is found in the appendix.

After the elections, national parties make alliances in the EP to form European Political
Groups. These groups must consist of MEPs from at least a quarter of the MS and have at least 25
parliamentarians. The last European election saw the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP)
maintain its position as the largest political group, with 274 MEPs, followed by the Progressive
Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) with 194 MEPs. The centre-right has been the largest
group for around a decade, with the left being in decline since the turn of the century (Lodge, 2010).
The Liberals (ALDE) and Greens are also represented by political groups in the EP as well as the
eurosceptics, which now include the Conservative Party from the UK (EP, 2013).

Concerning the countries selected for this paper, most of the major national political parties
fall within the two main EP political groups, i.e. the EPP and the S&D. Table 2 in the appendix shows
under which political group the major national parties from the selected countries fall. Some countries,
notably Germany and Italy, even have two separate parties in the EPP in Brussels. Two national
political parties are part of the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy group (EFD), namely

the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Lega Nord from Italy. The Front National (FN)
of France can also be considered eurosceptic, however its MEPs are independent and have not joined
any political group in the EP.

A Comparison between National and European Elections

After having presented the historical evolution of the EP’s powers, the European party system
and the functioning of the European elections, we will now analyse the differences between national
and European elections. At first glance, European elections may seem quite similar to general national
elections, since they are also a legitimate democratic event with the aim of electing the members of a
representative assembly on a regular basis. However, a more accurate analysis of the EP shows that
there are actually a series of distinct differences between the European and the national systems.

Right after the first EP elections, Reif and Schmitt (1980: 3) labelled European elections as
“additional national second-order elections”, thus giving birth to the most well-known model to
compare European elections to national ones. To be more precise, according to the two authors, the
second-order election model was not exclusively a European feature. They go on to say:

“Such a relationship between a second-order arena and the chief arena of a political system is
not at all unusual. What is new here, is that one second-order political arena is related to
[many] different first-order arenas” (Ibid).

Norris (1997: 111) has clearly shown the difference between ‘first’ and ‘second’-order

“ ‘First-order’ elections offer voters the critical choice of who should govern the country. […]
‘Second-order’ elections, in contrast, are less important because, although still open to
influence by national party politics, they determine the outcome for lesser offices, such as
regional, municipal and local officials in parliamentary systems, and legislative representatives
in presidential systems. Based on this distinction, elections to the European Parliament, no
matter how significant for legitimacy of the EU, clearly fall into the second-order category.”

Empirical observations of European elections confirm that these electoral events are of a
‘second-order’ type. Firstly, it is possible to identify low levels of voter participation, because of the
perception that there is ’less-at-stake’ in the election of the EP. Secondly, “the outcome is strongly
related to the popularity of national parties […] rather than revolving around particular issues,
individual candidates, or specific events” (Ibid: 112). Last but not least, European elections are
typically a way to sanction incumbent national parties, and thus, they also represent an opportunity for
small parties to collect more votes than in national elections. As Norris notices, from what has just
been pointed out, European elections are far from “reflecting their unique transnational status” (Ibid).

In order to better grasp why European elections are often perceived as being second-order, we
believe that a study of the EP, and of its legislative, political and institutional settings, might help to
explain why European elections differ from national ones.

The current legislative politics in the EP depend on the political dimension of the proposed
legislation and on the institutional architecture of the EU. Regarding the political dimension, it is
possible to observe two main cleavages in the EP which can be summarised as left-right and pro-anti

integration. Hix & Høyland (2011: 54-58) argue that when the proposal in question is about EU
integration there is a tendency of the two major European party groups (EPP and S&D) to vote
together in order to form a grand coalition. However, whenever a proposal is of the left-right cleavage
type, the EP tends to be divided into two coalitions, with the EPP leading the right and the S&D
leading the left.

According to Kreppel & Hix (2003), this ideological left-right conflict was reinforced from
1999 onwards. Until then the voting patterns in the EP were more strongly based on a grand coalition.
This change was triggered by two main factors: firstly, the EC’s resignation following the EP
accusations of nepotism and mismanagement which drew a lot of media attention to the EP; secondly,
the unexpected low turnout and result of the 1999 elections that caused a break of the EPP-S&D
agreement on alternation of the EP’s presidency (Ibid: 77). The latter event marked a change in the
EP’s legislative politics towards less consensual dynamics. This shift was very welcomed by the
Greens and the ALDE groups that argued that the excessive consensus building in the EP made this
institution discredited in the peoples’ eyes (Ibid: 78).

Kreppel & Hix (2003) also point out that despite the 1999 change towards a more conflictual
political life within the EP, a grand coalition is even more likely to form as far as the inter-institutional
voting is concerned
. This reinforces the argument that the institutional architecture of the EU, in
particular the EP’s need of defending its position vis-à-vis the other institutions, boosts consensus
seeking in the EP.

Despite the EU intra-institutional constraint which seems to favour consensus building in the
EP, Lo (2013) argues that MEPs can be responsive to voters’ preferences, reinforcing the idea that the
European party groups do represent, to a certain extent, the ideological clashes that exist among the
EU citizens, mostly still based on the left-right dimension. To prove this, the author takes into account
the influence of the Nice Treaty rejection in the 2001 Irish referendum relating this event to the Irish
MEPs’ voting behaviour. He concludes that after the referendum, the Irish MEPs started to vote in a
more conservative manner, accordingly to the Irish electorate preferences expressed in this
referendum. Therefore, this case study questions the perception that the EP is not responsive to the

The analysis of the EP legislative setting is quite different when one considers voting rounds
concerning legislative proposals that involve the pro-anti European integration dimension because in
this case, the grand coalition is more likely to be formed. Opposed to the latter, there are the
eurosceptic groups composed of nationalist extreme right and left wing parties as well as populist
parties. Given that these parties represent only a small proportion of the EP and that they have huge
difficulties in forming coalitions themselves for obvious ideological clashes they do not manage to
gather enough votes to actually influence the EP’s final decision. This fact is the reason why the EP is
generally defined as a pro-European institution (Hix & Høyland, 2011: 54-58).

It is important to point out that the majority of the legislative proposals forwarded to the EP
concern the pro-anti European integration dimension and consequently, political fights do not happen
as frequently as they do in the main national assemblies. The reason for this resides in the
competences of the EU that do not always imply matters which usually generate partisan conflicts like

Since 1999, whenever the EP voting is inter-institutional, a grand coalition is formed in the 49% of the cases,
while before 1999 it happened in the 36% of the times (Kreppel and Hix, 2003: 91).

seen at the national level for welfare state issues, e.g. education, social protection and security, taxes,
etc. (Bertoncini, 2013; Craig & De Búrca, 2011: 83-86).

The results of voting rounds in the EP depend on the political dimension concerned and on the
EU intra-institutional constraint (Hix & Høyland, 2011: 54-58). In this context, the European party
groups will trade off based on their short, medium and long term goals (Kreppel & Hix, 2003: 93-94).
These goals are tightly correlated to the political dimensions previously discussed. Thus, on the one
hand we have the pro-European integration and pro-empowerment of the EP’s positions being part of
both S&D and EPP medium and long term goals. On the other hand, there is the left-right conflict,
which mostly concerns the short-term goals of the party groups, as it is the case of economic policies.

To conclude, even if a comparison with national elections seems to be almost “natural”, it is
important to bear in mind that:

“A European election remains, regardless of its outcome, an election on Europe. It must then
be analysed from a very unique and idiosyncratic standpoint, rather than compared to elections
defined by different logics and objectives. Only a ‘European approach’ to ‘European elections’
allows one to avoid the mistake of drawing ‘lazy comparisons’ (the tyranny of national
references) or ‘non-cautious comparisons’ (‘second-order elections’)” (Hastings, 2007: 148).

Part II. Five EU Member States Compared: a Qualitative Research Analysis

In the first part of this paper we have dwelled on the EP’s origins and evolution of its powers,
we have analysed the EP’s party system and the functioning of the European elections and, last but not
least, we have highlighted the complexity of a comparison between national and European elections.
In the second part of the paper, we will try to find an answer to our research question about the
possibility to identify a genuinely pan-European (and thus transnational) democratic debate across the
EU. In order to do so, we have adopted a comparative approach of qualitative analysis of five EU MS,
i.e. collecting a series of interviews (by email, by phone, and in-person) from academics and
politicians for each country. The five MS here considered are: France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and
the UK. The reason why we have chosen to focus on these five MS specifically is due to the fact that
demographically, economically, politically and sociologically speaking, they are very different from
each other, thus particularly interesting to compare
. In addition, they represent fairly the diversity of
the EU: three founding countries, two southern European countries particularly affected by the crisis
but with huge differences in terms of wealth, and the UK, which has a long eurosceptic history and
might have a referendum on leaving the EU.


The run-up to the 2014 European elections in France

France is currently led by the Socialists (Parti Socialiste, PS) with Hollande being the
President. The last presidential elections took place in 2012, when in the first round Hollande
(28.63%) and Sarkozy (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, UMP) (27.18%) turned out to be the
two candidates with the most important share of votes in the first round. What is remarkable is that the
extreme right-wing party Front National (FN) with Marine Le Pen became the third strongest political
force (17.90%). In the second round, Hollande was then elected President by obtaining 51.63% of the
votes (compared to 48.37% for Sarkozy) (Le Monde, 2012a). A few months later, the parliamentary
elections took place in which the PS obtained the majority of the seats (278 out of 577 seats compared
to 188 seats for the UMP) (Le Monde, 2012b). After the recent municipal elections in March 2014 in
which the PS experienced significant losses in votes, Hollande decided to change his cabinet and
appointed Valls (PS) as the new Prime Minister (Gauron et al., 2014).

Concerning the attitudes towards the European dimension, French citizens seem to be more
and more unsatisfied with the EU: in the beginning of March 2014, according to a survey led by Iris
not only did 83% of the respondents judge the EU’s action as not efficient but also, 58% of the
interviewees declared that they are not going to vote in the upcoming 2014 EU elections (Le Figaro,
2014). According to a very recent survey called Sondage OpinionWay conducted for Le Figaro and
(April 2014), 64% of French people are not interested in the European electoral campaign.
Always according to this survey, the expected rate of abstention will be around 60%, which is not very
different from 2009, when 59.4% of French electors didn’t vote. Other results from Sondage
OpinionWay and PollWatch show that the rightist UMP is supposed to gain the 22% of votes followed

At this point, we find important to precise that the teamwork of this paper is composed of four international
students, coming from Brazil, Germany, Italy and the US, which might also help explaining the choice of the
five case studies presented.
Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques.
LCI stands for La Chaîne Info is a French cable news channel.

by the eurosceptic FN (20%) and the PS (18%). Looking at these polls, one might conclude that, as is
happening in other MS, attitudes to vote in the next European electoral appointment are strongly
influenced by the internal political situation and the general dissatisfaction due to the international
crisis period.

General expectations from the next 2014 European elections (turnout, outcomes, etc.)

Ziller (Professor of EU law at the University of Pavia, Italy) argues that there is a general
eurosceptic mood in France, which will imply high levels of abstention and gains for populist parties.
Bargas (parliamentary assistant of a Green MEP) agrees that there will be a “relatively low turnout”
(of about 30%) in France, with a success of “far right, populist and eurosceptic parties.” Generally
speaking, he predicts a little gain for the Socialists and even losses for the Liberals and the Greens. In
line with this, and concerning his country in particular, Bargas expects “higher scores for the far right
(FN), huge declines for the Greens, stabilisation of centre-right (UMP) and small gains (or
stabilisation) for the Socialists and gains for the Liberals (L’alternative UDI-Modem).” Lamassoure
(EPP MEP, UMP) also thinks that there will be high levels of abstention in France, stressing the
specific factors his country is currently experiencing. In particular, he mentions the fact that local
elections have overshadowed the European campaign (a point shared by Dantin, EPP MEP, UMP),
that the country doesn’t seem able to fulfil its European commitments and, last but not least, that the
condition of the national economy is not positive, especially considering that unemployment continues
to rise. Gauzès (EPP MEP, UMP) is definitely more optimistic, arguing that, although the general
European mood is rather anti-European because the EU is perceived as being far from the citizens’
interests, the share of eurosceptic parties will not be as relevant as expected. Rather, the most part of
the votes will show a pro-European attitude.

Major issues in the 2014 European elections for France and according to different political ideologies

Many interviewees agree on the evidence that the main issues at stake for the 2014 European
electoral campaign in France concern the Union and country’s ability to manage the crisis and the
difficult economic situation, especially youth unemployment (Bargas; Juvin; Kelbel; Ziller). In
particular, Bargas presents the specific issues for the Greens in France, which are: the validity of
austerity measures and the future of the Eurozone, the industrial policy, the international trade and the
social issues. For the EPP MEPs of the UMP (Juvin, Lamassoure, Saïfi) the role of the EU in the
world and its ability to face globalisation is the main topic of interest, together with immigration and
unemployment. According to Dantin (EPP MEP, UMP), the debate will be very national, because the
campaign will be very short and voters will tend to vote according to the typical national ideological

The European electoral campaign: the role of national parties and of the EP’s political groups

Ziller believes that national parties cannot lose their central role in the European campaign but
they should play this crucial position on the basis of a transnational campaign and thus discussing and
debating European policies. The professor is not the only one arguing that national parties should
continue to be fundamental actors during the European campaign. Bargas stresses that not only do “EP
groups have no role in the European campaign” but that it is even “morally and legally impossible”.

He continues, highlighting that national parties “are the ones who know their votes (and how to
address them), who have the activists’ capacities and the local networks (firms, unions, NGOs,
medias, etc…).” Dantin and Saïfi (EPP MEPs, UMP) both underline how relevant the role of national
parties is in order to make citizens feel close to MEPs and to mediate between national realities and
European interests. Lamassoure (EPP MEP, UMP) believes that both actors (i.e. national and
European parties) are important while Gauzès (EPP MEP, UMP) depicts the European lists as a
“dream” compared to what is reality. He argues that parties should debate around common European
topics, to avoid European elections that have too much of a national character. However, it is still
premature to consider bypassing the role of national parties. Juvel (EPP MEP, UMP) is firmly
convinced of the validity of transnational lists, common to all of the MS because this could give a
proper European dimension to the European elections, also enhancing the EU’s legitimacy. Kelbel
(PhD student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, ULB) states that there has already been a certain
change towards a more transnational dimension: the images of EC’s Presidency candidates are rather
popular and these candidates are already clearly campaigning in a transnational way across MS.
However, as previously stated, the issues at stake in the EU campaign are presented mainly under a
national perspective by national parties, creating a gap between the national electoral arena and the
European legislative one.

The impact of the EP’s consensual politics as opposed to a more conflictual modus operandi

Bargas argues that there is too much consensus in the EP which leads to the fact that parties
and MEPs that are used to the conflictual national model have difficulties in explaining their work to
their voters. Furthermore, he claims that consensus-building has an impact on the political positioning
of MEPs who were used to working in a conflictual or ideological way as those MEPs are either side-
lined in the EP or starting to accept compromise. However, Bargas and Kelbel also admit that a more
conflictual model in the EP would not change much as coalitions across political groups would still
have to be established. Ziller argues that it would be desirable for the European political groups to
have clearer ex-ante political positions and to explain why they had to make compromises in the

The majority of our interviewees, however, appreciate the consensual politics of the EP.
Gauzès (EPP MEP, UMP) thinks of it as a model that helps to find good solutions. He underlines that
the EP has already managed to take many decisions on how to deal with the economic and financial
crisis on the basis of consensus-building. Lamassoure (EPP MEP, UMP), who prefers to consider the
EP as being based on compromise, not consensus, highlights that such politics have one major
advantage: once a text has been discussed intensively, it is accepted by all the different parties from all
the MS. Saïfi (EPP MEP, UMP) agrees with this statement, stating that it is extremely important to
respect the different political and national points of views since decisions are taken for the long-term
and apply to more than 500 million citizens in 28 MS. Juvin (EPP MEP, UMP) states that time is not
yet ripe for a left-wing or right-wing party to impose their programme on Europe for five years. He
compares the EP to national parliaments of the Northern European countries that are based on
consensus-building rather than to the French parliament. This can, of course, give the impression that
there are no ideological differences in the EP. However, Juvin thinks that party cleavages will be
shown more clearly during the electoral campaign in the run-up to the elections.


Low EU citizens’ political participation and interest: causes and ‘solutions’?

Several causes for the decreasing political participation of European citizens were raised by
our interviewees. The majority argue that the system of the EU is too complex and technocratic which
leads to a distance between the EU and its citizens. Dantin (EPP MEP, UMP) argues that on top of that
the European citizens often do not know by which deputies they are represented. Several interviewees,
among them Saïfi (EPP MEP, UMP), claim that the French media does not properly cover European
issues and elections. She draws a comparison to Germany by stating that there are ten times less
French correspondents in Brussels than German ones. Interestingly, most of the German interviewees
also complain about bad media coverage of European topics in Germany and the German Green MEP
Cramer underlines that the big German newspapers often have more than ten correspondents in Berlin
whereas they have only one or two in Brussels. Dantin (EPP MEP, UMP) adds that the media often
presents European policies as useless. Moreover, Saïfi (EPP MEP, UMP) claims that the debates in
France have recently concentrated on the municipal elections which will render it even more difficult
to shift the attention to the European elections now.

In order to attract the interest of the European citizens, the majority of the interviewees argue
that the media should report more regularly and more positively on Europe and that the European
deputies should be more active in their districts
. In particular, MEPs should highlight the powers of
the EP in order to make people aware of the influence their vote has in the European elections. Dantin
(EPP MEP, UMP) also mentions that the MS should help to renew the people’s interest in the EU, for
instance by presenting logos of the EU in a visible way when they conduct infrastructure projects
funded by the EU. Kelbel adds that the MS should stop making the EU the scapegoat of political
failures and Bargas wishes for more conflictual politics and for a more personalised campaign.
Lamassoure (EPP MEP, UMP) argues that the nomination of top candidates of the European political
groups could increase the turnout for the elections. However, he regrets that the political parties and
the media have not made many efforts to make it public. Thus, the effect on the turnout could be

The European Parliament: a crucial actor to exit the economic, financial, political and social crisis?

All interviewees believe that the EP is an actor that is unavoidable in the EU decision-making
process and that it has already played an important role in getting out of the current crisis. However,
Lamassoure (EPP MEP, UMP) argues that the EP cannot solve the crisis alone, but in cooperation
with the Commission and the Council. Since the EP is the only EU institution that directly represents
the European citizens, Saïfi (EPP MEP, UMP) stresses that it should especially be the EP that should
tackle the economic and financial crisis and the resulting social problems. Dantin (EPP MEP, UMP)
argues that the role of the EP has been decisive for the development of the Six Pack and the Two
. Moreover, concerning immigration, it was the EP that initiated the reform of Schengen. In
general, the EP pushes for further fiscal and social harmonisation in Europe – a topic that is often
avoided or even impeded by the MS. Ziller states that it would be desirable for the EP to serve even
more as a place for debates on social and economic issues. He wishes that these debates would be

Actually, in the annual organisation of the EP’s work, there are already weeks (called the “turquoise” weeks)
which are planned ad hoc to give MEPs the possibility to come back to their districts and meet their voters.
Both of the EU law measures have been taken in order to strengthen “economic and fiscal governance in the
EU and the euro area” (EC, 2013). To find more information, please go to:

conducted in public and that at least the President of the European Council, the President of the
Commission and the MS assuring the rotating Presidency of the Council of Ministers would be present
during the discussions. Afterwards, such debates could be followed by a press conference held by
these three persons and the presidents of the EP’s European political groups. All this should happen
before the meetings of the European Council which could then take into account the results of the


From what has been said so far, we might conclude that the European elections in France are
clearly perceived as being of the “second-order” type. Indeed, French citizens’ attitudes towards the
next European electoral appointment appear to be strongly related to the national political situation. If
the unpopular Hollande government has already been “punished” in the local elections of March 2014,
this is also predicted to occur in the next European ones. As already noticed for other countries, e.g.
Italy, it is the extreme and populist party, FN in France, which is expected to gain a relevant amount of
votes and to even bypass the PS. The majority of our French interviewees confirm the extensiveness of
this eurosceptic, anti-European feeling among French people.


The run-up to the 2014 European elections in Germany

Germany is currently led by a grand coalition composed of the Christian Democrats,
Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands/Christlich Soziale Union Deutschlands (CDU/CSU)
and the Social Democrats, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), with Merkel being the
Chancellor. The last Bundestag elections took place in September 2013 when the CDU/CSU
experienced the most important gain in votes, obtaining 41.5% (compared to 33.8% in the 2009
elections). Thus, although the votes for the SPD slightly increased from 23.0% in 2009 to 25.1% in
2013, the difference between the share of votes between the CDU/CSU and the SPD rose significantly.
Meanwhile the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and the Left (Die Linke) lost votes; obtaining 8.4%
and 8.6% respectively (compared to 10.7% and 11.9% in 2009). The Liberals (FDP), for the first time
since 1949, are not represented in the Bundestag as they failed to cross the 5% threshold by obtaining
only 4.8% of the votes. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), an anti-European party which ran for
election for the first time in 2013, obtained 4.7% of the votes (, 2014a). The CDU/CSU
and the SPD agreed to form a grand coalition government and re-elected Merkel as the Chancellor in
December 2013 (Zeit Online, 2013).

After the first 100 days in office, the majority of the Germans (55%) were unsatisfied with the
work of the grand coalition according to a special edition of the ARD-DeutschlandTrend
of 28 March
2014 (, 2014). Nonetheless, Merkel remains very popular; the monthly ARD-
DeutschlandTrend surveys from January to April 2014 consistently show that around 70% of Germans
are satisfied with Merkel (ARD, 2014a: 7; ARD, 2014b: 7; ARD, 2014c: 3; ARD, 2014d: 3). Ovens
(CDU candidate for the European elections) links the success of Merkel to her policies that have led to

The ARD-DeutschlandTrend is a monthly political survey commissioned by the ARD, an organisation that
regroups Germany’s regional public-service broadcasters, and several German daily newspapers.

economic growth and a high level of employment. This is why, he argues, the political mood in
Germany continues to be pro-European.

The political mood of Germans in the run-up to the 2014 European elections seems to be
indeed pro-European. In April 2014, 65% of the Germans interviewed in the ARD-DeutschlandTrend
survey stated that they were in favour of more cooperation between the EU MS in the future (ARD,
2014d: 16). Moreover, 72% are convinced that the EU makes Europe more secure. There were also
some critical points from the survey: 71% of the interviewees claimed that the EU is not able to speak
with one voice and 70% think that it should be more present in foreign policy issues (ARD, 2014d:

General expectations of the next 2014 European elections (turnout, outcomes, etc.)

The survey mentioned above also provides information on how the political mood in Germany
could translate into votes in the European elections. It reveals that the top candidate of the S&D
Group, the current EP President Schulz (S&D MEP, SPD), is slightly more popular than the top
candidate of the EPP Group, the former Luxembourg Prime Minister Juncker. Whereas 33% of the
interviewees prefer Schulz as the Commission President, 29% are in favour of Juncker (ARD, 2014d:
14). At the same time the CDU/CSU, part of the EPP Group, remains – like at the national level – the
most important political force. In April 2014, 40% of the interviewees stated that they would vote for
the CDU/CSU if the European elections were to be held on the following Sunday. In contrast, only
28% would vote for the SPD. Die Grünen, die Linke, the FDP and the AfD would obtain 9%, 7%,
4.8% and 4.7% respectively. Therefore, according to these results, the German voting pattern in the
European elections will not differ very much from the one in Germany’s last national elections.

Most of our interviewees for this paper did not talk about concrete voting outcomes and only
stated that they hoped for a good result for their national party and/or European political group. Some,
however, were more concrete. At the European level, Sommer (EPP MEP, CDU) expects a neck-and-
neck race between the Christian Democrats and the Socialists as well as an enormous gain in votes for
the right-wing populists. Papenfuß (parliamentary assistant of an S&D MEP, SPD) expects a stronger
S&D and a weaker EPP faction. According to him, the Greens will experience a slight loss in votes,
the ALDE will be strongly reduced and the GUE/NGL has chances to become the third biggest group
in the EP.

The expectations of our interviewees for the outcome at the German national level are similar
to or differ only slightly from the results of the ARD-DeutschlandTrend survey. The Green MEP
Cramer (The Greens MEP, Die Grünen) expects a clear increase of the votes for Die Grünen
compared to the last national elections, reaching the double-digits. For Sommer (EPP MEP, CDU) it is
clear that the two main German parties, the CDU/CSU and the SPD, will lose votes due to the
expected increase in votes for the AfD and very small parties that are allowed to enter the EP after the
removal of the 3% threshold.
Papenfuß (parliamentary assistant of an S&D MEP, SPD) argues that
the results of the German federal elections can certainly be taken as a benchmark for the German
voting pattern in the European elections. Contrary to the results of the ARD-DeutschlandTrend,
however, he predicts that the CDU/CSU, although remaining the strongest political party, will not get
as much votes as in the last national elections. According to him, the usual rule for the SPD’s share of
votes is “federal election results minus 3-5%” which is due to its difficulties in mobilising voters in

This topic will be further developed later in this section.

European elections. However, he points to the fact that this year the S&D top candidate Schulz (S&D
MEP, SPD) might attract undecided voters to the SPD. Considering that Schulz is the most popular
candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission in Germany, it seems possible that the SPD
will catch up with the CDU/CSU.

The existence of top candidates for the first time in the European elections and its effect on the
turnout are referred to by several of our interviewees regardless of their political affiliation. Ferber
(EPP MEP, CSU) expects a higher turnout than in the last European elections as the EP is more
influential today than ever before. Machnig (person responsible for the SPD’s European election
campaign) also underlines that European citizens have for the first time the opportunity to decide on
the appointment of one of the leading positions in the EU. Therefore, he expects a higher turnout and a
stronger European public debate that will moreover be reinforced by the broadcasting throughout
Europe of the head-to-head debate between Schulz and Juncker. Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) argues that
the turnout could especially be higher than in the last European elections in countries that present the
top candidates for the European political groups such as Germany. Papenfuß (parliamentary assistant
of an S&D MEP, SPD) states that although the existence of the top candidates could boost the turnout,
one should not be overly optimistic. He expects a voting participation of 40-45% which would thus
not differ from the turnout at the 2004 and 2009 elections

As Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) argues, the candidates of the European political groups are also an
important topic dealt with in the German media
. Especially in the run-up to the nomination of Schulz
and Juncker, these candidates were often talked about in the news (see for example Kruppa, 2014; Zeit
Online, 2014b; Busse, 2014). The focus seems to be especially on Schulz, being a German national
and being both the SPD’s and the S&D’s top candidate, whereas Juncker seems to be less visible
considering that he is the EPP’s top candidate, while Merkel and CDU/CSU top candidate for the
European elections McAllister dominate the European electoral campaign in Germany (Denkler,

Apart from the candidates of the European political groups, Ovens (CDU candidate for the
European elections) and Reintke (Die Grünen candidate for the European elections) mention another
aspect that could lead to a higher turnout for the European elections of this year. They argue that the
economic and financial crisis has contributed to an increased debate on Europe. Ovens even argues
that a European public space has developed for the first time as the European citizens have started to
form an opinion about the events in other MS, having realised that they can be influenced by such
developments and that the challenges of the crisis can only be tackled together. Therefore he expects a
higher turnout at the European level.

An aspect raised by the majority of our interviewees that could contribute to a higher turnout
not at the European level but in Germany is the fact that in 10 out of 16 German federal states
municipal elections will be held on the same day as the European elections
. Although this would
have a positive effect on the German turnout, it implies at the same time that our interviewees expect
many Germans to consider European elections as being of less importance and that they fear that many

The turnout at the 2004 elections was at 45.47% and at the 2009 elections at 43% (EP, 2014).
We have considered the online version of the most important national newspapers, such as Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Zeit, but also websites specialised in European affairs like
Euractiv Deutschland.
Municipal elections will be held in Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-
Württemberg, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Hamburg on 25
May 2014 (, 2014b).

Germans would not vote in the European elections if they were not going to the polls anyway to vote
in the municipal elections.

Cramer (The Greens MEP, Die Grünen) argues that the removal of the 3% threshold for
German parties to enter the EP by the German Federal Constitutional Court
could also have a
mobilising effect in Germany as it allows even very small parties to be represented in the EP. Most of
our interviewees mention the abolition of the 3% threshold neutrally and underline two main
consequences. Firstly, very small parties are more likely to enter the EP and secondly, already
established parties will then have to cede seats to those parties. Alberts (Die Grünen candidate for the
European elections), however, points to the possibility of the extreme right-wing party
Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) to enter the EP. Also in the media the removal of
the 3% threshold has been strongly criticised. Most critical voices accuse the German Federal
Constitutional Court of having double standards and considering the EP to be less important than the
Bundestag since it implicitly judged that party fragmentation in the EP is not as bad as at the national
level (Cramer, 2014; Thielboerger & Dawson, 2014) Cramer (The Greens MEP, Die Grünen) also
states that he cannot understand the differentiation between the threshold at the Bundestag elections
which is still at 5% and the one at the European elections which has been removed recently.

Despite the overall positive stance on the turnout for the European elections at the German and
the European level, there are also issues that raise fears and worries among our interviewees. Many of
them mention the rise of eurosceptics both at the European and the national level. Reintke (Die
Grünen candidate for the European elections) expects a general shift to the right, especially due to the
French Front National and the United Kingdom Independence Party. Also Papenfuß (parliamentary
assistant of an S&D MEP, SPD) expects the eurosceptics to be the big winners of the elections. He
also argues that that the mood in Germany concerning the EU is rather sceptical, which is one reason
for the rise of the AfD. Alberts (Die Grünen candidate for the European elections) also states that he is
worried about the AfD with its anti-European and right-wing populist slogans and the fact that it is
likely to obtain 6-7% of the votes. Interestingly, Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) remarks that the anti-
European parties that focus primarily on their own country and demand less European integration
paradoxically contribute to the fact that the EU is at the centre of the debates on the European

Major issues in the 2014 European elections for Germany and according to different political

Nearly all our interviewees regardless of their political affiliation stated that the economic and
financial crisis or topics associated with it such as high youth unemployment, stability of the euro zone
and debt management dominated the European agenda. It was underlined by the majority that the
question of what kind of Europe we want is related to these topics. Here, the link was again drawn to
the rise of the eurosceptics and their demand for re-nationalisation of EU competences. It was stressed
by an EPP MEP from the CDU, however, that the German government considers a deepened
European integration as the sole way to get out of the crisis. Other topics that were mentioned
regularly, regardless of the political stance, included current foreign policy issues, especially the

Until the end of 2011, Germany had fixed a 5% threshold for parties to enter the EP. However, the German
Federal Constitutional Court declared this to be contrary to the German constitution as it considered the rights of
small parties and the equality of votes to be infringed. Consequently, the Bundestag established the 3% threshold
in October 2013. In February 2014, the German Federal Constitutional Court declared it again to be
unconstitutional (Zeit Online, 2014a).

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Russia relations with regard to the
Crimean crisis. Cramer (The Greens MEP, Die Grünen) underlines that these two issues reflect the
relevance of the EU as a whole and not of the individual MS. Moreover, migration policy and
reduction of European red tape were considered as crucial for the European elections by the majority
of the interviewees. Apart from the topics mentioned above, the Social Democrats additionally raised
the need for a fairer financial order, the regulation of banks and a financial transaction tax.

The Greens underlined especially the importance of climate protection, the energy transition
towards more sustainable energy sources and the avoidance of genetically modified food.
Interestingly, the topic of a reliable and payable energy supply was raised by several interviewees
regardless of their party adherence. This might be a topic that is specific to Germany as the Germans
are strongly sensitive to environmental issues, especially since the catastrophe in Fukushima. Ertug
(S&D MEP, SPD) also underlines that energy policy will be an important topic in Germany since it is
feared that the planned prohibition of financial advantages for energy intensive companies by the EC
could hurt the German industry. Ertug also states that all these various topics will probably be dealt
with differently in the 28 MS. Reintke (Die Grünen candidate for the European elections) stresses that
national discourses play indeed an important role in the perception of the European election, but that it
is also already common to lead European debates.

The European electoral campaign: the role of national parties and of the EP’s political groups

In order to promote the creation of a European public space and a European democratic debate
like in national elections, Ovens (CDU candidate for the European elections) and Alberts (Die Grünen
candidate for the European elections) state that they wish for stronger European electoral campaigns
led by the European political groups. This would imply at the same time that national parties would
have to step back and that their current major role in the campaigns would be limited. Reintke (Die
Grünen candidate for the European elections) adds that transnational campaigns are important to make
people know which parties sit together in the different European political groups and who takes the
decisions in the EP.

Several interviewees, among them Voss and Pack (EPP MEPs, CDU), argue that the electoral
campaigns in the run-up to the European elections should be led both nationally and transnationally.
Papenfuß (parliamentary assistant of an S&D MEP, SPD) calls this phenomenon a multi-layered
electoral campaign. Voss (EPP MEP, CDU) claims that topics related to financial and economic
policies for instance could be covered by the European political groups whereas national parties have
more insights into national and local issues that should subsequently be taken on by them. Also Pack
(EPP MEP, CDU) underlines that the important role of national parties can be justified by the fact that
the MS are in different situations and have different experiences. Nevertheless, internal politics that
are not related to the EU should not be placed in the foreground. A stronger presence of the European
political groups is especially desirable according to her as many European citizens do not even know
about their existence. Thus, the nomination of European candidates could be a first step towards a
more transnational campaign.

This argument is shared by the majority of the interviewees regardless of their political
affiliation. Although they agree with the view that there is a tendency towards a more transnational
campaign, the majority of the interviewees consider a complete transnational campaign as unrealistic
in today’s circumstances. Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) argues that, despite all commonalities, there are

still important differences in the political cultures and in the views on parties and candidates. Thus,
national parties constitute a bridge between the European political parties and the people, and will
continue to remain important. Sommer (EPP MEP, CDU) adds that it would be too early for a
transnational campaign as there is nearly no politician who is known throughout Europe and as the
interest in political topics varies among MS.

The impact of the EP’s consensual politics as opposed to a more conflictual modus operandi

Despite different political cultures that face each other in the EP, it is generally said that the
EP’s politics are based on consensus. Pack (EPP MEP, CDU) having worked both in a national
parliament and in the EP, confirms that EP politics are indeed more pragmatic and “un-ideological”
than politics in national parliaments. She argues that the lack of a coalition and an opposition like in
national parliaments leads to consensus-building in the EP. Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) and Cramer (The
Greens MEP, Die Grünen) claim that one of the reasons for the EP’s reliance on consensus is that it
aims to speak with one voice vis-à-vis the Council. According to the Dopp (CDU candidate for the
European elections), this is crucial as the EP would otherwise weaken its position vis-à-vis the Council
and the Commission.

Although many interviewees agree with the fact that consensus-building is frequently used in
the EP, the majority, regardless of the political affiliation, argues that there are nevertheless political
conflicts. Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) states that some topics divide the EP along national lines such as
climate protection or along factions like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Sommer
(EPP MEP, CDU) even considers the assumption of consensus-building in the EP to be wrong as the
debates in the EP are nearly as conflictual as in national parliaments. An EPP MEP from the CDU and
Papenfuß (parliamentary assistant of an S&D MEP, SPD) go a step further and argue that the lack of a
coalition and an opposition and the subsequent changing majorities allow MEPs to engage more in
debates than in national parliaments. Papenfuß and Voss (EPP MEP, CDU) underline that conflicts in
the EP are often not perceived by the public because they are not covered by the media to the same
extent as national political conflicts. Machnig (person responsible for the SPD’s European election
campaign), argues that the nomination of European top candidates could reinforce the political
conflicts in the EP.

Low EU citizens’ political participation and interest: causes and ‘solutions’?

The majority of our interviewees argue that the lack of adequate media coverage of European
topics is one of the main reasons for the low turnout for European elections. Whereas national
elections are reported on months in advance, European elections are not strongly present in the
national media. An EPP MEP from the CDU claims that if European topics are covered by the news,
the EU is often presented as a regulatory and technocratic monster, the most prominent example being
the EU cucumber directive for which the EU has been strongly criticized although it was the industry
and not the EU that had called for it. Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) further argues that the media often
report on domains that are not yet well integrated and in which the EU has not scored many successes
such as foreign and security policy which gives the impression that the EU is unable to find solutions
for urgent problems. Furthermore, Sommer (EPP MEP, CDU) points to the fact that the EU is hardly
treated as a topic in schools.

Nearly all interviewees state that people have to be made aware of the influence their votes
have in the EU and of the EU’s influence on their everyday life in order to raise the turnout. Here, the
link was again drawn to the importance of the European top candidates as the election of the
Commission President by the EP could contribute to a renewed interest in the EU. Ovens (CDU
candidate for the European elections) quotes Bono, the singer of U2, who stated at the EPP congress in
Dublin in March 2014 that “Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling.” To reach this it was
claimed by many that national media would have to report on European issues in a more responsible,
investigative and informative way, decisions made in Brussels would have to become more transparent
and successes of the EU would have to be communicated more intensively. Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD)
also argues that MEPs could further rely on social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in
order to get connected with their voters.

The European Parliament: a crucial actor to exit the economic, financial, political and social crisis?

None of our interviewees doubted that the EP, being the only EU institution that is directly
elected by the European citizens, is a driving force in getting out of the current economic and political
crisis. Ertug (S&D MEP, SPD) and an EPP MEP from the CDU stress, however, that solutions to the
crisis cannot be solved by the EP alone, but in cooperation with the other European institutions. Nearly
all of the interviewees underlined that the EP is part of the ordinary legislative procedure and that
decisions thus cannot be taken without the EP. Pack (EPP MEP, CDU) underlines that all legislative
projects of the preceding years such as the Six Pack, the Two Pack, the bonus caps for bankers and the
banking union bear the EP’s mark.


In summary, the political mood in the run-up to the European elections in Germany is pro-
European although the rise of the eurosceptics at the European and German level and the removal of
the 3% threshold give reasons for concern. The interviewees considered the interview questions both
from a European and German perspective and thus raised both pan-European and national issues.
Nearly all of them pointed at least once in their interview to the topic of the European candidates,
which seems to be an issue that is considered to play a crucial role in attracting the interest of
European citizens. Also the issue at stake in the European elections that is seen to be the most
important one – the economic and financial crisis – is transnational. In this context, the EP is
considered to be an important driving force to get out of the current situation. As all interviewees are
pro-European and agree more or less on the mentioned aspects, one could not observe important
differences between the political parties. However, as the interviewees argue, this does not necessarily
mean that there are no political conflicts in the EP. Next to the transnational dimension, national
aspects were of course also often referred to. Many argue that a complete transnational electoral
campaign would be too premature and that national parties remain important. Moreover, the survey on
how Germans will vote in the European elections that was mentioned in the beginning of this section
clearly shows that the outcome for Germany will probably be similar to the results of the last national
elections. This might indicate that Germans see European elections in national terms.


The run-up to the 2014 European elections in Italy

The Italian public opinion has historically been among the most pro-European within the EU
and has always shown high rates of political participation in the European elections (in 2009 the
turnout was of 65.1% in Italy). This has been typically explained by the Italian citizens’ lack of trust in
their national politics and the consequent perception of the EU “as an alternative to the long-lasting
problems of the domestic political élites” (Castelli Gattinara & Froio, 2014: 3). However, the
beginning of the crisis and the implementation of austerity measures in the country seem to have
negatively affected Italian people’s support for the EU. Many authors (Ibid) and data coming from
recent Eurobarometer surveys confirm this negative trend, showing that even if “the public debate is
characterized by an unprecedented degree of Europeanization, [the Italian] public support for the EU
reaches an historical low” (Ibid). In comparison to 2009, the national (and international) context of the
next European elections is far from being the same. Five years ago, Berlusconi was in power, his party
(Popolo delle Libertà, PdL) was cohesive and his government was still rather popular, thus it is not a
surprise that the Pdl gained 35.3% (i.e. 29 sights) of votes, while the main leftist party, the Partito
Democratico (PD), scored for the 26.1% of the votes (i.e. 21 sights) in 2009 European elections. Since
then, apart from the international crisis and its increasing and negative effects on the Italian population
and its political opinions, the Italian political scene has become more and more complex. A large
number of political and judicial scandals has affected the former Prime Minister Berlusconi, leading to
the end of his government and the break-up of the PdL. Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) has
achieved increasing success at a national level and, lastly, the results of the 2013 national elections
have testified to the serious and unstable national political situation (Maggini & Emanuele, 2014).

According to many Italian media
, the 2014 European elections represent an important
moment for the Italian political system. They are considered as the ‘appropriate’ arena to test the
Italian public’s support for new parties (such as Alfano’s Nuovo Centro Destra), for reborn parties
(such as Berlusconi’s Forza Italia), for the main party currently in power (Renzi’s PD) as well as for
populist and eurosceptic parties (Grillo’s M5S and the Lega Nord). Making predictions about the
Italian citizens’ attitudes to vote in the next European elections is not at all an easy task because the
current unsteady internal political situation and the disaffection of citizens to the Italian party system
render Italian voters to be particularly floating (Chiaramonte & Emanuele, 2013). Data coming from
recent polls confirm what has just been pointed out, with voting expectations changing almost on a
weekly basis: between the 15
and 17
April 2014, on average, the PD reached 32% of support,
followed by the M5S (24.4%) while Forza Italia got below 20% and the Nuovo Centro Destra and the
Lega Nord got just around the 5% (PollWatch 2014). Almost ten days later, however, the PD is 13
points ahead the M5S, (Pagnoncelli, 2014) registering with 34% of support, while the M5S scores
21.6% and Forza Italia gets 19%.

Hence, the topic of European elections in Italian media and public debates seems to be
analysed and discussed almost exclusively in terms of national political issues. This is not particularly
surprising for the Italian case considering that the country has been suffering a deep national political
crisis since 2011, with the beginning of technocratic governments (Monti’s from November 2011 to

We have considered the online version of the most important national newspaper, such as Ansa, Il Corriere
della Sera, Il Fatto Quotidiano, La Repubblica, Libero, but also blogs specialised in political issues, like
EUNews, Il Post, Polisblog, The Huffington Post.

April 2013 and Renzi’s since February 2014) or rather unstable elected governments (Letta from April
2013 to February 2014).

General expectations from the next 2014 European elections (turnout, outcomes, etc.)

According to all of the interviewees, the EU is more and more depicted “the cause of domestic
problems” (Italian EC official) in Italy. Citizens are tired of austerity measures, and thus they ‘risk’ to
be attracted by what Alfano (ALDE MEP, Italia dei Valori) labels as the most dangerous and
disruptive sides of politics, i.e. extremist and eurosceptic parties. Almost all of the respondents are
convinced that the turnout will be rather low in Italy because of the lack of information and interest
regarding European topics in Italian public debates and media. Moreover, Illari (professor of Public
Law at the University of Pavia) stresses that the majority of the European citizens that vote still take
into account the internal political situation of their country. This is even more evident in Italy where
they “talk very little about the EU”
(Ibid) because they’re too busy to cope with the current complex
internal political life: “parties don’t talk about the EU unless those which use the anti-Europeanization
as one of their electoral slogans. This is a matter of fact one should reflect upon”

Major issues in the 2014 European elections for Italy and according to different political ideologies

Generally speaking, the economic issues, and more precisely the macroeconomic policies, are
predicted to take centre stage in the 2014 European elections. The question of the EU’s democratic
legitimacy is also crucial (Confalonieri, professor of European Political Organization at the University
of Pavia; Illari), and is strictly linked to the previous economic dimension. In particular, Confalonieri
highlights that the austerity measures have been imposed as being “the only game in town” with
excessive social costs; moreover, there has been a progressive disempowerment of the EP and of
national parliaments in favour of supranational actors and mechanisms of governance (such as the
European Central Bank and the Fiscal Compact).

Interestingly, when looking at politicians’ replies, we find that economic issues are the
subjects of discussion while it is possible to see a distinction between the different political
propositions. On the one hand, the Italians of the leftist European political groups (ALDE, S&D) focus
on a recovery of the real economy, an ambitious European industrial policy and on the overcoming of
the disastrous austerity policies. Meanwhile, if the centre-right (EPP) agrees on the need to revise
austerity measures to fight unemployment, especially among young people, rightist politicians coming
from less pro-European sides (European Conservatives and Reformists, ECR and Europe of Freedom
and Democracy, EFD) express very different opinions, from the need to come back to a real national
sovereignty to the criticisms about the validity of the single European currency.

The European electoral campaign: the role of national parties and of the EP’s political groups

When it comes to examining the possibility of evaluating the idea of real transnational
campaigns mainly managed by European political groups instead of national parties, there are very

Original quote: “[…] per l’Italia, dove si parla poco di UE […]”.
Original quote: “I partiti non parlano dell’UE, se non quelli che fanno dell’antieuropeismo uno dei loro
slogan elettorali. E’ questo un dato di fatto su cui riflettere”.

different opinions. Professor Illari states that, if one looks at the sources of EU law (art.10, par.4
; art.4 TFEU
; art.12 Charter of Fundamental Rights
) concerning the European party system,
it is possible to conclude that their legal nature is more like “statements of principles”, i.e. “statements
of opinions”, rather than prescriptions of commands, in its narrowest sense. Illari argues that the
ideological nature of these statements, rather than referring to the description of a politico-institutional
reality, almost seems to stress the lack of a European party system. According to Illari, national parties
should still be the central political actors in the European electoral campaigns but they should
campaign transnationally. The role of national parties should be to present a legislative programme for
the EP, to support a candidate for the EC’s Presidency and to make European citizens aware of the
importance of their vote.

Professor Confalonieri firstly highlights the need to revise the model of a “policy without
politics” at the European level and of a “politics without policy” at a national level, politicizing the
European sphere. Then, she argues that in order to make the European parties more visible, the
designation of a common candidate for the EC’s Presidency is already an important step towards a
more “politicised” European politics. Furthermore, the emergence of clear and distinctive
programmatic choices among the various European political groups is also necessary, exactly as it is
fundamental to bypass the differences existing among national parties, which belong to the same
political family but not to the same MS.

Leftist politicians coming from S&D and ALDE support a more transnational and
"communitarian" political fight, to be detached from the national dimension and to help the creation of
a united and federal Europe. Rightist politicians are more cautious. Bonsignore (EPP MEP, Nuovo
Centro Destra) argues that, although the EU’s intergovernmental way of functioning contributes to
weaken the EU institutions’ image and identity at the EU citizens’ eyes, it is still too early to propose a
transnational campaign for the European elections. Both Bonsignore and De Martini (ECR MEP,
Forza Italia) stress the importance of the common candidate for the EC’s Presidency, introduced with
the Treaty of Lisbon. This, they argue, contributes to make people more aware of the transnational
dimension of their vote. Lastly, Speroni (EFD MEP, Lega Nord), coming from a eurosceptic party,
states that the campaign should remain “national” because the elections are made on national bases.

The impact of the EP’s consensual politics as opposed to a more conflictual modus operandi

The question of the validity of a more conflictual EP working-model, as usually happens in the
national parliamentary life, is strictly related to two aspects. First, Grilli di Cortona (President of the
Italian Society of Political Science and professor of Political Sciences at University of Roma Tre)
points out that the EP is very different from national parliaments because it still can’t decide on a
series of matters, which are of national competence, a fact which also affects its “different” way of
operating. Secondly, professor Illari underlines that as long as there won’t be a well-structured
European party system, the consensual model will remain the only one within the EP. She also stresses
a point which has already been discussed in the first part of this work, which is that the EP’s tendency
of forming a grand coalition is linked to the need to influence the two other institutions involved in the
European legislative process, i.e. the European Council and the EC. An Italian EC official doesn’t

“Political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the
will of citizens of the Union”.
This article states that the European legislator can adopt norms concerning the statute of political parties at the
European level and norms about their funding.
“Political parties at Union level contribute to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union”.

agree with the idea that the EP lacks of conflict because the fact that the “EP is "consociational by
Lijphart standards […] does not mean however that there are no conflicts. Final votes are often
consensual, but votes on the amendments can be extremely contentious” (Ibid).

An Italian political representative of the S&D (PD) believes that the reason why the EP’s
functioning is based on consensus is due to the EP's fragmented political situation and to the fact that
there is not a political government, differently from the national context. He continues to state that if
the consensus is reached for widely important topics, then it will be considered as a good practice,
because it favours a deep political exchange and better legislative functioning. However, if it implies a
politics of compromise, an obstacle to the ambitious and fundamental European political projects, then
it will be essentially harmful. Last but not least, De Martini (ECR MEP, Forza Italia) supports the idea
of a more conflictual model in order to give space to the “smaller” European political groups, and to
stop the decision monopoly held by the two largest European political groups, the EEP and S&D.

Low EU citizens’ political participation and interest: causes and ‘solutions’?

Not too surprisingly, all of the respondents agree on the fact that the main cause of the low EU
citizens’ political participation and interest for European issues is due to a deep lack of information.
Professor Grilli di Cortona stresses that in Italy there has always lacked an education concerning the
EU and the construction of a European identity. Moreover, whenever one talks about Europe in Italy
there is a tendency to refer more to war, colonisation, persecutions and genocides rather than sciences,
art, music, architecture, democracy, and all of “beautiful things that link Europeans together”
Hence, according to the professor, in Italy, there is a general attitude of pointing out the negative,
often technocratic, and thus “boring” aspects of the EU, forgetting about how important the cultural
and “emotional” side is in order to attract the public opinion. An Italian EC official touches on another
aspect, i.e. the fact that “the EU is perceived as distant and the vote is not considered as having
influence by citizens”. According to him, the ‘solutions’ are: “campaigning on issues of EU relevance,
making an effort to explain what the EU is about, putting forward quality candidates and supporting
common candidates for the President of the Commission” (Ibid). However, he’s convinced that “the
turnout will not be as high as in national elections” (Ibid), despite the efforts that are made to rise EU
citizens’ political participation. Professor Confalonieri thinks that, if the lack of information remains a
relevant explanation for what has been discussed in this paragraph, it is important not to forget the
impact of the crisis, which has made citizens feel unhappy and powerless towards the general political
situation. An Italian political representative of the S&D (PD) agrees on this point, stating that
citizens’ lack of political confidence is strictly linked to the austerity measures enacted by national
governments after the beginning of the crisis. Bonsignore (EPP MEP, Nuovo Centro Destra) states
that the key is to explain to citizens what “transfer of sovereignty” and “construction of the European
unity” really mean and imply for citizens’ lives. In conclusion, Rinaldi (ALDE MEP, Italia dei Valori)
is more optimist than the other Italian interviewees because he believes that the designation of a
common candidate for the EC’s Presidency “will help people to better understand the European inter-
institutional relationships”

Original quote: “Non si parla delle tante bellissime cose che uniscono gli europei […].”
Original quote: “[…] aiuterà a far capire meglio alla gente i rapporti delle Istituzioni europee.”

The European Parliament: a crucial actor to exit the economic, financial, political and social crisis?

The respondents differently depict the extent to which the EP can play a crucial role to exit the
crisis. Professor Grilli di Cortona firmly believes that the central actors will still remain the MS,
especially Germany. Professor Illari argues that the EP has to play a fundamental role to solve the
EU’s democratic deficit, which is a relevant part of the current EU’s weaknesses. Professor
Confalonieri interestingly highlights that if the next EP has a huge proportion of eurosceptic parties, it
will then be difficult to see how the EP will be able to produce strong and effective contributions to
exit the crisis. An Italian EC official emphasizes that, in any case, “no institution alone will provide a
sufficient response to the crisis but success will be a function of concerted action at EU and at national


The specificity of the Italian case study is undeniable. From all of the different aspects
discussed in our questionnaire, it emerges that the current difficult internal political situation
overshadows the topic of the 2014 European elections. Whenever the national debates cover the topic
of the EU, it is mainly, and almost exclusively, in terms of crisis management and austerity measures.
Italian citizens are tired of making socio-economic efforts, which are often presented as being asked
by the EU, or even, by Merkel’s Germany. That said, the turnout is not expected to be high because
Italian citizens lack interest and information regarding the EU. The results are unpredictable but it is
likely that Grillo’s populist party (M5S) will gain lots of support. The possibility to influence the
President of the EC introduced with the Treaty of Lisbon is not seen as having an impact in the Italian
voters’ choices because again, only a small part of the population is aware of it.


The run-up to the 2014 European elections in Portugal

The current economic situation in these first months of 2014 in Portugal is very negative and
widely discussed by the Portuguese and international media as well as by political parties and
academics (Arriaga e Cunha, 2014b; Nóbrega, 2014; Padrão, 2014). Contrary to the Troika’s
expectations, there has been no growth in 2013, instead there has been, for the third year in a row,
recession, this time of 1.4% (TVI, 2014).

One of the main problems Portugal is facing since the beginning of the crisis is
unemployment. Despite Portugal having the greatest reduction of the unemployment rate among all
EU MS (2.2 points from March 2013 to March 2014), the country still suffers from high levels of
unemployment (15.2% in March, 2014). Even more concerning is youth unemployment (35.4% in
March, 2014), which has decreased even more, by almost 5 points as regards March, 2013 (Diário de
Notícias, 2014b).

Public budget cuts have brought about lower levels of social protection, intensifying the needs
of poor people. As a matter of fact, the risk of becoming poor for people under 65 years old has been
increasing in Portugal and has reached this year the level of 18.7%, the highest since 2005

(Bancaleiro, 2014). Unable to find jobs in their own country, many Portuguese citizens have
emigrated, many even own a university diploma. The situation is so severe that the EC foresees a
decrease in population of 1.3% in Portugal by 2015 in relation to 2009. This data is even more striking
taking into account that the population in this country was growing steadily before the crisis, for
example between 2004 and 2008 the population increased by 0.4% (Aníbal, 2014).

The effects of the crisis in Portugal are particularly strong if one considers the overall impacts
in the EU. This is the reason why much attention has been drawn to crisis management and solutions
in the 2014 European elections. As a matter of fact, on 17 May 2014 the ‘memorandum of
understanding’, a compromise on economic and fiscal policies signed by the IMF, ECB, EC and
Sócrates (S&D MEP, PS), former prime minister of Portugal, expires. The general feeling is that the
“Troika policies”, as they are usually called, have caused great damages to the country. Notably, the
memorandum has foreseen much better results for the Portuguese economy from 2011 to 2014 than it
was actually observed. For example, the memorandum expected a growth of 2.5% and an
unemployment rate of 11.6% by 2013, when, as we have stated above, these indicators were much

Right after the signature of the memorandum on 17 May 2011, the legislative elections took
place in Portugal on 5 June 2011, empowering Passos Coelho (EPP MEP, PSD), the opposition’s
candidate who is still ruling today.
During almost the whole “Troika period” the PSD (EPP) has been
in power which has conferred to this party an image of “the ones who support austerity”, further
reinforced by the PS (S&D) campaign and public statements (see on this matter Padrão, 2014; Gomes
& Lourenço, 2014).

There are many signs that the next European elections will be a sort of evaluation of the so far
adopted measures and will concern proposals to overcome the crisis. Furthermore, the next Portuguese
legislative elections are supposed to happen in 2015, which makes the European election an
opportunity to campaign also for the following national elections (see on this issue Fonseca, 2014;
Rodrigues, Almeida & Botelho, 2014).

It is remarkable that, differently from the situation in other countries, the severe crises that
reaches Portugal did not boost the popularity of far right wing or nationalist parties, even though the
attempt exists, as is the case of the Partido Nova Democracia (PND), which has an extremely limited
presence, being this party only represented at Madeira Island’s parliament. It supports that Portugal
should not be part of the Euro-zone and neither be so influenced by policy-making coming from
Brussels (see Nóbrega, 2014).

Finally, Eurosondagem has conducted a poll, recently published by EuroVoice, which
indicates that, in the next European elections, the PS (S&D, 37,5%) is two points ahead the PSD (EPP,
32.5%), followed by the PCP-PEV (GUE/NGL, 10.9%) and B.E. (GUE/NGL, 5.5.%). This indicates a
turn to the left as compared to the previous Portuguese legislative elections in 2011.

The 2011 elections results were: PSD (EPP) 38,65%; PS (S&D) 28,06%; CDS-PP (EPP) 11,70%; PCP-PEV
(GUE/NGL) 7,91%; B.E. 5,17% (GUE/NGL), the rest of the parties obtained less than 2% of the total number of
valid votes, see on RTP (2011).


General expectations of the next 2014 European elections (turnout, outcomes, etc.)

One of the main issues concerning the effects of the crisis in the 2014 European elections is
the citizens’ participation: while the three interviewed MEPs foresee a decrease in turnout, the two
academics foresee an increase compared to the 2009 European elections. On the one hand, the former
explain that the Troika’s measures caused the emergence of distrust and malaise in the Portuguese
population in relation to the EU, on the other hand, the latter argue that the crisis made the Portuguese
citizens realise that the EU does have a concrete and relevant impact in their daily lives.

Other aspect that has been quoted by Matias (GUE/NGL MEP, B.E.) is the disconnection
between the citizens and the MEPs. Gomes (S&D MEP, PS) and Rodrigues (professor at the
Université Libre de Bruxelles and at the Lisbon University Institute, known as the mother of the
Lisbon Strategy and former Minister of Employment in Portugal) also point out the importance of this
European election as the first one to appoint the president of the EC. Both consider that it might
contribute to better levels of turnout. Professor Rodrigues also mention that the fact that this election
will choose not jut MEPs but also the President of the EC caused a personalization of the campaign,
which is likely to captivate voters and therefore help to increase turnout.

This aspect has been treated very frequently by medias too. Sometimes with discredit, as it is
the case of Arriaga e Cunha (2014a), who covers the speech of Rompuy in which he states that it will
not be the MEPs who choose the successor of Barroso, but rather the MS. Sometimes, it is treated with
relevance, as in the case of the article by Fonseca (2014), which quotes Paulo Rangel’s (the first
candidate in the PSD’s - EPP - list) statement about the “extreme and severe divergences” between
Schulz and Seguro, the PS (S&D) leader.

Major issues in the 2014 European elections for Portugal according to different political ideologies

All interviewees agree that the crisis will impact turnout, and also that the crisis will bring
about economic problems as one of the main points to be discussed in the 2014 European elections
campaign. This statement has been confirmed by media coverage (Valente, 2014), which very often
correlates the European election to the crisis.

The MEP Matias (GUE/NGL MEP, B.E.) also mentions the importance of treating issues as
human rights and democracy in the campaign. Somehow similarly, Patrão Neves (EPP MEP, PSD)
stresses the need not to let the economic matters completely undermine issues related to European
citizenship. On the contrary, Pureza (professor of International Relations at the University of Coimbra,
activist of the B.E. - GUE/NGL- and former deputy at the Portuguese parliament) argues that the far
more relevant matter to be discussed in this election is the crisis and the alternatives to overcome it.
According to him, it is likely that some parties will try to divert people’s attention to abstract debates,
such as the “European project” or the debate around the opposition ‘inter-governamentalism versus
federalism’. This attempt, Pureza argues, is completely mistaken because the topic that can really
increase turnout concerns the effects of the crisis because this is what mostly affects people’s lives
today. Complementarily to Pureza, Gomes (S&D MEP, PS) points out that, during the European
campaign, it is highly important to make it clear that the only way to overcome the crisis is to build a
different Europe. In this same line, professor Rodrigues indicates unemployment and emigration,

problems closely related to the crisis, as important elements that will come up during the campaign
and debates.

The MEP Patrão Neves (EPP MEP, PSD) also stresses the attempt of left-wing parties to
nationalise the campaign in order to criticise the Portuguese government and collect votes for the 2015
Portuguese legislative elections (Fonseca, 2014). In a different kind of approach, Gomes (S&D MEP,
PS) also considers the relationship between the results coming from both the 2014 European elections
and the 2015 legislative elections: Gomes expects that the European election results will be an
anticipation of the national legislative elections results.

The European electoral campaign: the role of national parties and of the EP’s political groups

In spite of the arise of attention dedicated to Europe in this election, it is still clear that most of
the interviewees and media channels treat the European election as a ‘second order national election’
in the sense that they are inserted in a national context. Regarding the interviewees’ opinions on who
should be in charge of campaigning in the European elections, all of them argue that some level of
coordination by the European parties’ group is needed, especially in terms of general values. However,
national parties are more aware of the specificity of the relationships between each country and the
EU, as for example in which way European polices impact a specific country.

The impact of the EP’s consensual politics as opposed to a more conflictual modus operandi

As we discussed in the first part of the paper, the different functioning of the EP and of the
national parliaments influences the way the people perceive the two institutions and also their
behaviours as voters. It is interesting to see that the interviewees have different opinion concerning the
consensual nature way of functioning of the EU. While Gomes (S&D MEP, PS) argues that it is not
true that the EP works in a consensual manner, pointing out that there is much conflict between the
main party on the right and the main party on the left regarding economic matters, Patrão Neves (EPP
MEP, PSD) argues that the EP well functions based on consensus and that this is a result of its
institutional infrastructure as well as of its competences and of its foundation grounds.

Still, another different opinion was presented by Matias (GUE/NGL MEP, B.E.), who believes
that the word ‘consensus’ is not appropriated to qualify the functioning of the EP. She argues that
there is rather a ‘compromise’ than a consensus because in her opinion party groups agree to vote
together in order to get support fpr policies they defend. According to her, this doesn’t happen so often
in national parliaments due to the fact that here generally there is a formed majority. She also argues
that in many cases the two majoritarian groups have the same position, such as the one concerning
monetary and fiscal policy. However, whenever it comes to these policy fields, she states that some
small party groups still represent a remarkable, but not large enough, resistance. In other matters, she
continues, there is a large compromise that also encompasses those last mentioned groups, such as in
fundamental freedoms.

Low EU citizens’ political participation and interest: causes and ‘solutions’?

Matias (GUE/NGL MEP, B.E.) argues that there is a systematic effort to separate the
European citizens from their parliaments by constructing an opaque decision-making process and that

this would be the main cause for the high level of abstentions. Professor Pureza and Gomes (S&D
MEP, PS) both believe that Portuguese citizens perceive that the EP has not an important impact in
their lives and this would be the main reason for low level of turnout. According to the former, this has
changed with the crisis while according to the latter this has changed with the Lisbon treaty, which has
stated clearer competences of the EP, and with the measures that the EP has undertaken to overcome
the crisis, such as the Bank Union.

Patão Neves (EPP MEP, PSD) argues that the main reason for abstention is related to the
negative perceptions that national and regional governments have constructed around the EU by
‘europeanising’ the unpopular policies and nationalising or regionalising the popular ones.
Interestingly, Patrão Neves (EPP MEP, PSD) and Matias (GUE/NGL MEP, PSD), who don’t mention
any important change about what has just been mentioned, consider that abstention will remain high,
whereas Gomes (S&D MEP, PS), professor Pureza and professor Rodrigues, who identify different
sorts of changes about national and regional governments sponsoring for European policies, argue that
there will be an improvement in turnout.

Regarding possible policies to boost turnout, Rodrigues argues that the election of the EC
president itself is already an important step towards higher levels of participation. Patrão Neves (EPP
MEP, PSD) argues that more objective information about the EP’s decisions and influence on
European policies is needed. She also believes that there is a lack of acknowledgement in the
Portuguese population regarding the benefits brought by European funds.

The European Parliament: a crucial actor to exit the economic, financial, political and social crisis?

The three interviewed MEPs all think that the EP has the means to contribute to the crisis
overcome, however Matias (GUE/NGL MEP, B.E.) points out that the political position of the two
majoritarian parties are incompatible with the measures that should be carried out and this has
worsened the crisis by generating more unemployment, inequality and poverty. Gomes (S&D MEP,
PS), contrarily, argues that the EP already has a role in the crisis overcome, mentioning the Bank
Union and the legislation on corruption fighting as two relevant examples of it. In this respect, the
Patrão Neves (EPP MEP, PSD) has a similar position but she refers to different examples than the
Gomes, such as agriculture investments and financial supports to medium and small companies.

Professor Rodrigues states that the EP has had a very important role in fighting the crisis
especially because this institution, in her opinion, is much more advanced in terms of responsiveness
to the European people than the other EU institutions. Finally, professor Pureza points out that in order
for the EP to be able to put forward policies that contribute to the crisis overcome, it has its reason to
exist need to be recalled, in other words, to promote social and territorial cohesion. Similarly to Matias
(GUE/NGL MEP, B.E.), Pureza believes that this change is possible only with a different composition
of the EP.


To conclude, the main issues of the 2014 European elections in Portugal mainly concern the
crisis management and potential solutions to overcome it, while other minor issues have also been
pointed out. Given that the crisis is considered today a European crisis, this certainly increases the
attention drawn to the EU, even if it is not clear how it will impact turnout levels. Furthermore, this
European election is expected to be of great relevance for Portugal, given that it will be the first time

that the Portuguese electorate will vote being able to evaluate the so called “Troika policies”. It seems
like these policies have not been very popular or successful in terms of coping with the social
problems caused by the crisis. This is likely to cause an increase in support for left-wing parties.

United Kingdom

The run-up to the 2014 European elections in the UK

In the United Kingdom, much of the focus on the European elections has targeted the United
Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and its recent and growing success in the polls. Looking back to
2009, UKIP scored second place with over 16 per cent of the vote—behind the Tories with nearly 28
per cent (European Election Database 2014). The latest polls have UKIP at 27 per cent, just three
behind Labour and 5 points ahead of the Tories (Ross, 2014). Meanwhile, the most fervent supporters
of the EU in the UK, the Liberal Democrats, are potentially facing a steep decrease in support after
many controversial policy decisions made within the current coalition government. In 2009 they got
13 per cent of the vote while they are now holding single digit support in the polls.

The British are going to the polls in 2015 for their next general election. As this election
approaches, it has attracted much more media attention than the European elections, even if the latter
is taking place much sooner. The European debate, not the elections, has also been getting a lot of
media attention thanks in large part to Prime Minster Cameron’s promise to hold an “in-out”
referendum in 2017 if the Conservative Party is re-elected in 2015. The debate regarding the
referendum, and the rise of UKIP, has brought the subject of Europe to the front pages of the British
press, even if the elections are not always explicitly mentioned. The leaders of UKIP and the Liberal
Democrats, Farage and Clegg respectively, have taken part in a series of highly covered debates on the
subject of Europe (Wintour, Watt & Mason, 2014) that brought the subject to the national audience.
The debates themselves were generally seen as being won by Farage and helping UKIP boost its
support in the polls (Young, 2014). As far as the European election itself is concerned, it has been
reported that a debate between the main candidates from the European political groups will be
broadcast in the UK but on news channels that have an extremely low market share (Carling, 2014).

Unsurprisingly the current political scene in the UK is dominated by domestic issues including
the next general elections, the 2014 Scottish referendum for independence, and the rise of UKIP as a
political force. Europe is often discussed, usually relating to the potential referendum in 2017, but the
elections are an event that is rarely covered by the press.

General expectations of the next 2014 European elections (turnout, outcomes, etc.)

In the previous European elections, the turnout of the electorate in the UK amounted to just 34
per cent, below the EU average of 43 per cent. For comparison, in the 2010 general election, the
turnout was 65 per cent (International Idea, 2014). Representative Bearder (ALDE MEP, Liberal
Democrats) believes that the debate about Europe is bringing further attention to the elections, saying
that turnout will “swell.” However, Christopher Howarth of Open Europe says the opposite, expecting
the low turnout in European elections to continue.

As far as expectations for the upcoming election are concerned, it seems everyone agrees on
the rise of UKIP as a political force. Read (Green candidate for European elections) admits that UKIP
is “likely to do quite well,” while Mr Howarth states that “there will be a strong showing by the UKIP
party driven by concerns over EU integration, immigration, a low turnout and a feeling that voters are
safe to use the European Elections as a vehicle to register a protest against all the main parties.”
Bearder (ALDE MEP, Liberal Democrats) notes that UKIP is a “negative, eurosceptic force in the
UK” but argues that because they have been given so much media attention, they have gotten people
talking about Europe. These reactions, along with much media coverage on the success of UKIP in the
polls (New Europe, 2014; Ross, 2014), clearly indicate that everyone is waiting to see how successful
UKIP will be in these upcoming elections and further down the line, how it will perform in the next
domestic general election in 2015. With a potential in-out referendum in 2017, the ramifications of a
UKIP victory in the European elections and an increased share of votes in 2015 would be large on the
European debate in the UK.

Major issues in the 2014 European elections for the UK and according to different political ideologies

Concerning topics that are likely to be discussed during the campaign, Bearder (ALDE MEP,
Liberal Democrats), Mr Read (Green candidate for European elections), and Mr Howarth all agree that
the in-out referendum will be a large part of the discussion. MEP Bearder also puts UKIP and the
Liberal Democrats on opposite ends of this debate, saying “For us in the UK the stage has been set –
people will choose to vote UKIP which signifies their eagerness to leave the EU or they will vote
Liberal Democrat to stay in the EU.” While UKIP is the only major British political party that actively
promotes the idea of leaving the EU, there are many Tory backbenchers who would subscribe to this
line of thinking as well. At the same time, the leadership of the Conservatives and Labour both
advocate staying in the EU, with Cameron pushing for reform rather than leaving. Mr Howarth also
makes the point that the Tories will want to focus on the domestic recovery, as the UK sees higher
growth than much of the continent
. These responses go along with the idea that in Britain the
European elections are in fact similar to domestic ones, in the sense that the issues discussed are
mostly internal—even the European debate is focused on the potential British referendum.

The European electoral campaign: the role of national parties and of the EP’s political groups

As mentioned earlier, the debate between the main candidates of the European Political
Groups will be broadcast in the UK, even if to a small audience. However, as pointed out in the New
Europe article, these candidates themselves have no plans to physically visit the UK. Regarding the
question of the role the Political Groups should play in the campaign for Europe, Bearder (EPP MEP,
Liberal Democrats) and Mr. Howarth agree that the national parties should continue to be the ones to
campaign in the European elections. MEP Bearder states that “Identifying an MEP with a national
party increases transparency and accountability to a degree – in a sense my constituents know what
they’re going to get.” Mr Howarth goes further, saying “In the UK the inability of transnational parties
to campaign would be complicated by the fact that the main political parties either disagree with their
major European groupings candidates or stances on many issues or are not a member of a major
transnational party.” The idea of the S&D directly campaigning in the UK does not seem practical and
would in fact be logistically difficult for the parties but also the electorate.

As of the last quarter of 2013, according to Eurostat, the UK economy was growing at an annualized rate of
2.7% while the EU average was 1.1% with France being 0.8% and Germany 1.4%.

The impact of the EP’s consensual politics as opposed to a more conflictual modus operandi

Moving on to the workings of the EP itself, Bearder (ALDE MEP, Liberal Democrats) says
that in fact the EP is not wholly based on the idea of consensus “True the atmosphere at least is less
adversarial and confrontational than many national parliaments but there are still clearly huge
divergences between the groups.” She goes on to say that “However, that said it is important that any
amendments laid by individual members get support in the committees and in the final plenary votes,
it is therefore important that MEPs and groups work together to achieve improvements in the
legislation.” Mr Howarth also says that the EP is not actually based on consensus, but rather
alienation: “Rather than consensus, parties and voters who did not agree with further integration were
side-lined.” Here are two different ways to the same opinion, that in fact the EP is not based on
consensus building. These opinions go against one of the biggest criticisms of the EP, that the groups
always agree and so it does not function like a regular parliament. MEP Bearder makes the argument
that the EP is in fact closer to a national parliament than many might realise, however Mr Howarth
says that the EP is like this because eurosceptics have been marginalised, coming from the democratic
deficit argument.

Low EU citizens’ political participation and interest: causes and ‘solutions’?

Regarding how to perhaps help the issue of lower turnout in the elections themselves, both
Read (Green candidate for European elections) and Bearder (ALDE MEP, Liberal Democrats) agree
that the public needs to be educated regarding the EU and its elections, admitting that this is no easy
feat. MEP Bearder goes on to say that another source of the turnout problem could be the difference in
electoral systems: “In the UK there is one member of the UK parliament per constituency whereas in
the European Parliament there are a number of MEPs per constituency so there is more of a physical
disconnect – in a sense MEPs are less visible than MPs.” Since the UK elections are the first-past-the-
post system, the electoral districts are extremely localised with one MP. With the EU requiring
proportional representation in its elections, the UK public is faced with an electoral system that is
quite different from the one they are used to, and one that is less localised. Mr Howarth takes a much
more critical tone regarding the EP, he states that “The European Parliament has failed as a democratic
institution, whereas national parliaments remain the main source of democratic legitimacy. The
solution is to increase national parliaments’ participation in the EU.”

The European Parliament: a crucial actor to exit the economic, financial, political and social crisis?

The ongoing economic crisis and recovery in the EU is of course a topic for most nations in
these elections, whether debated on a domestic or European level. In the UK economic growth has
increased and the recovery is going faster than in many other MS, especially on the periphery;
however the economy is of course still a major topic in any election. When asked if the EP can play a
role in exiting the crisis, Bearder (ALDE MEP, Liberal Democrats) stated that the EP can in fact be
the solution to many of these problems relating to the crisis, even saying that “In some way it was the
lack of legislative guidelines that allowed the variety of financial problems to arise in the first place.”
On the other side of the debate, Mr Howarth says that, like others have argued, the EP moves too
slowly in general and that “the role of national parliaments in the Eurozone crisis, particularly the
Bundestag and Greek parliaments demonstrated that national parliament remain the source of



It is clear from these interviews on the various topics regarding the European election in the
UK that the debate continues over the role of the EP and its elections within the UK. Domestic issues
are still the main focus of any political debate, with the national elections taking place next year and
Scotland voting on independence later in 2014. There is often a large disagreement on the role of the
EP and the EU in general, with a stark difference between those that are pro-European and those
opposed to EU membership or the current state of the EU. The debate can only intensify if the UK
does in fact hold a referendum in 2017 and if UKIP does as well in the election as the polls predict.
The party is the only major party explicitly campaigning for an exit from the EU. While there are
many parties around the MS that do this, rarely do they have the potential to garner the support of a
third of the electorate in the European elections. The fact that everyone across the political spectrum
seems to agree on is that the rise of UKIP as a political player in the UK will be the major story of
these elections in Britain.


Looking back over numerous interviews from five very different MS, it is clear that while
there are some things that many can agree on, there are many more things that are still up for debate
when it comes to the idea of a pan-European EP election. The role of the EP’s political groups and the
EP itself are both still debatable, despite the EP approaching its fourth decade. The argument for the
EP having second-order elections compared to national elections still holds ground
, and the idea of a
pan-European election may seem ideal for many pro-EU Europeans, however many of the
interviewees stated this would be unfeasible and undesirable. Below combines the insights from all of
the interviewees from all five MS studied in this paper, and what concluding remarks can be drawn
from them.

General expectations of the next 2014 European elections (turnout, outcomes, etc.)

When looking to the run-up to the EU elections and the expectations, similar issues can be
seen across the continent. The rise of the far-right parties is clearly a concern in many countries. The
continuing assent of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is the main thing that everyone
in the UK is talking about in regards to the European elections. It is now common belief that UKIP is a
political force in the UK, especially for these elections, and polls even have the party potentially
coming out on top. In France, the continued success of the FN, especially after the recent local
elections, also makes the headlines. Meanwhile, in Italy the biggest push is supposed to come from the
populist party M5S, led by Grillo. Germany also has the rise of the eurosceptic AfD party, which
advocates for leaving the euro, however this party is not expected to achieve the same level of success
in Germany as the other eurosceptic parties in the UK, France, or Italy. Of the five countries studied in
this paper, Portugal has been the one most affected by the crisis—it is the only one of the five that has
actually received bailout funds. Interestingly, the Portuguese political scene has not seen a steep rise in
the far right that has been seen in many other parts of the EU.

However, some have said that European elections are in fact increasingly influenced by pan-European issues
(Blondel, Sinnot & Svensson, 1998).

Turnout for the European elections is notorious for being lower than national turnout. In
general, not many of our interviewees expect this to change. Some in the UK believe that the debate
on the potential 2017 in-out referendum could have a positive impact on the turnout rate; however
others do not think this will translate into more people coming out to the polls. There are some in
Portugal that believe the crisis will motivate some to come out and vote, however others counter that
the crisis in Portugal resulted in an increasingly negative perception of the EU, which in turn would
lead to a lower turnout for the election. France and Italy both largely expect turnout to not rise, an
aspect that can often help eurosceptic parties that have strong feelings towards the EU and are thus
more likely to come out and vote. Among the countries in this paper, Germany is unique in the sense
that one of the candidates for the Commission, the S&D candidate Schulz, is German and thus gives
the country a more direct connection to this election. This combined with the fact that most German
states will be holding their municipal elections at the same time, has led many in the country to believe
that turnout may actually increase from 2009 levels.

Major issues in the 2014 European elections

The rise of the far-right or eurosceptic parties as mentioned above is of course an issue for the
European elections especially for the UK, France, and Italy. However, most countries agree that the
ongoing economic crisis will be the main issue for the campaign. Germany and the UK, which have
seen stronger recoveries than the others, cite other issues that could come to the forefront of the
campaign. For example, the EU referendum debate in the UK will continue while in Germany things
such as the EU trade negotiations with the US (for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,
TTIP) or the energy policy of switching from nuclear to more renewable sources can play a bigger
role. In Portugal the crisis has had the biggest effect, and so it is clear the economy will be the huge
topic of debate. Meanwhile, the economy is still lagging behind in France and Italy, which along with
the eurosceptic parties will shape the debate during the run-up to the election.

The European electoral campaign: the role of national parties and of the EP’s political groups

In the UK there is consensus among our interviewees that the national parties need to maintain
their central role in European elections, instead of being replaced by the EP political groups. In
Germany the opinion is divided and in Portugal some say that the EP political groups should give
general direction, but national parties should carry out the campaigning. On this issue it seems that the
idea of a European election in which the EPP or the S&D campaign directly across all 28 MS is
unrealistic. Many argued that the public may either not be ready or that the EP political groups
campaigning would not be feasible. In such a scenario, they would have to campaign in all the
different languages of the populations across the EU as well as differentiate themselves from the
national parties, which form a part of the groups in the EP anyway. While some would like to see this
in the future as a real pan-European election, there does not seem to be much support of this at the

The impact of the EP’s consensual politics as opposed to a more conflictual modus operandi

When it comes to the often criticized aspect of the EP being too consensual as a legislative
institution, many of our interviewees across the continent have insisted that the EP is in fact not
always based on consensus and acts more like a national parliament than many realise. Some have

argued that legislation is often a compromise just between the two biggest political groups and the
others are simply ignored. The argument that the EP is in fact like a national parliament in the sense
that it has a centre-right and centre-left debate on issues still holds, with a few interviewees supporting
this claim. Meanwhile, there are others who say that the EP can be based on consensus but this
depends on the issue, with more sensitive topics like economic issues being the source of more heated
and partisan debate.

Judging from a large majority of interviewees saying that the EP is indeed not based on
consensus, the institution seems to have an image problem in this area. Outside of the EP, many
believe that the legislative body is not a “real” legislature because it often passes laws with large
majorities, often involving both the major centre-right and centre-left groups. However, within the EP,
many assert that the plenary is full of debate and is closer to national parliaments than many assume.
There are also many concerns, which are also found in national capitals, that smaller parties are
completely ignored and so it is an institution of alienation instead of consensus.

Low EU citizens’ political participation and interest: causes and ‘solutions’?

Across the board, most interviewees recognised that there is a general indifference to the
European elections. Even in founding countries like France and Italy, interviewees cited the rise in
euroscepticism with the public, despite being historically more pro-EU. Others, especially in the UK
and Germany, have cited education as a huge problem regarding the public’s attitude towards the EP
and the European elections. Often the general public knows very little about the elections, or that
they’re happening at all. Lack of media coverage is often cited as a leading problem in this area. If the
media does not deem the elections a worthy topic to report on, then many in the public will never hear
about them at all apart from doing their own research.

To solve this problem, a few solutions were given. For example, the educational system of MS
could offer some kind of course in the European Union to educate students on its functions and
elections. Another solution could come directly from the institutions themselves. MEPs could connect
with voters more, in particular through social media, and the EU could work more on improving its
communications outreach to its citizens. The EP could also send out its top candidates more, as it has
started to do in this election, in order to better connect the public with the institution itself, rather than
just national parties in another election.

The European Parliament: a crucial actor to exit the economic, financial, political and social crisis?

The economic crisis is clearly a major topic in European politics at the moment and is unlikely
to change in the short-term. Therefore the question of the role of the EP in exiting the crisis must be
addressed. Opinion on the EP’s role in the crisis is mixed. Some say the EP has in fact already helped
to exit the crisis, while others claim that the EP could possibly help in the future. Then there are others
who argue that in fact the EP has no role in this crisis, and that it should be left to national parliaments
who can act more quickly and locally.

Being the biggest issue in Europe at the moment, the EP could use the crisis to show the
public that it is in fact a powerful institution that has real effects on the lives of its citizens. However,
there does not seem to be much agreement on either how it can do this, if it has already done it, or if it
will be able to do it in the future. The role that the EP plays in European politics, both national and

transnational, is still up for debate among our interviewees, with no real consensus on what its role is,
what it should be, or what it can be.


After conducting the research and interviews for this paper, one can conclude that the idea of
pan-European politics, i.e. transnational democratic debate, is still that—just an idea. The EU citizens
still feel very far from the institutions in Brussels, and thus need their national parties as a mediator to
connect them with the EU. Furthermore, considering the interviewees’ opinions and after monitoring
media from each of the countries studied, the only pan-European trend identified concerns common
issues related to the crisis and populist or eurosceptic parties. However, the crisis, being such a
negative force on the recent EU history, could act as a motivator towards more positive integration in
the future. Even with the common ground of the crisis, there is still the tendency to treat these same
issues as national issues and to come up with national solutions. For those who wish to see pan-
European politics in the future, hope rests in the new development concerning the election of the EC
president. During this 2014 European campaign, each of the main political groups have presented a
candidate for the presidency who have campaigned across much of Europe and participated in
televised debates. This transnational campaigning could be a starting point for a real pan-European
politics across all 28 MS in the future.


Table 1 – Part I

Table 1 – Part II

Table 2

Political Group National Party MS
European People's Party Christlich Demokratische Union Germany
Christlich-Soziale Union Germany
Union pour un Mouvement Populaire France
Partido Social Democrata Portugal
Forza Italia Italy

Unione dei Democratici cristiani e dei
Democratici di Centro Italy
Socialists & Democrats Sozialdemokratische Partei Germany
Parti socialiste France
Partido Socialista Portugal
Labour Party UK
Partito Democratico Italy
Alliance of Liberals and
Democrats Freie Demokratische Partei Germany
Liberal Democrats Party UK
Italia dei Valori Italy
Greens Die Grünen Germany
Europe Écologie France
European United
Left/Nordic Green Left Die Linke Germany
Europe of Freedom and
Democracy United Kingdom Independence Party UK
Lega Nord Italy
European Conservatives
and Reformists Conservative Party UK
Non-Attached Front national France

Interview questions

1. What do you expect from the next 2014 European elections (turnout, outcomes, etc.)? And how is
the general mood in your country?

2. In your opinion, what are the major issues at stake in the 2014 EU elections? And what are the
specific issues related to your country/political party in particular?

3. Do you think that the European Parliament’s political groups should be the ones to campaign
transnationally or should national parties maintain their major role in the European elections? Why?

4. Many argue that the European Parliament’s politics are based on consensus. What do you think are
the impacts of this on European politics? What would change if these politics were based on a more
conflictual model like seen in most national parliaments?

5. Given that the turnout for European elections is lower than national elections, in your opinion, what
are the causes for this phenomenon? What measures do you think should be taken in order to increase
EU citizens’ electoral and political participation?

6. Do you think that the European Parliament can play a crucial role in exiting the current economic,
financial, social and political crisis? If so, why and how?


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• Bargas, Antoine - Parliamentary assistant of a The Greens MEP, Les Verts (via e-mail)
• Dantin, Michel - EPP MEP, UMP (via e-mail)
• Gauzès, Jean-Paul - EPP MEP, UMP (via telephone)
• Juvin, Philippe - EPP MEP, UMP (via email)
• Kelbel, Camille - PhD Student at ULB (via email)
• Lamassoure, Alain - EPP MEP, UMP (via email)
• Saïfi, Tokia - EPP MEP, UMP (via email)
• Ziller, Jacques - Professor of EU law at the University of Pavia, formerly professor at Paris 1-
Panthéon Sorbonne University and at the European University Institute, Florence (via email)

• Alberts, Peter - Die Grünen candidate for the European elections (via email)
• Anonymous - EPP MEP, CDU (via email)
• Cramer, Michael - The Greens MEP, Die Grünen (via email)
• Dopp, Jascha - CDU candidate for the European elections (via email)
• Ferber, Markus - EPP MEP, CSU (via email)
• Ertug, Ismail - S&D MEP, SPD (via email)
• Machnig, Matthias - Person responsible for the SPD’s European election campaign (via email)
• Ovens, Carsten - CDU candidate for the European elections (via email)
• Pack, Doris - EPP MEP, CDU (via email)
• Papenfuß, Felix - Parliamentary assistant of an S&D MEP, SPD (via email)
• Reintke, Terry - Die Grünen candidate for the European elections (via email)
• Sommer, Renate - EPP MEP, CDU (via email)
• Voss, Axel - EPP MEP, CDU (via email)

• Alfano, Sonia - ALDE MEP, Italia dei Valori (via email)
• Anonymous - Italian official at the EC (via email)
• Anonymous - S&D MEP, PD (via email)
• Bonsignore, Vito - EPP MEP, Nuovo Centro Destra (via email)
• Confalonieri, Mariantonietta - Professor of European Political Organisation at Università di Pavia (via
• De Martini, Susy - ECR MEP, Forza Italia (via email)
• Grilli di Cortona, Pietro - President of the Italian Society of Political Science and professor of Political
Sciences at University of Roma Tre (via email)
• Illari, Silvia - Professor of Public Law and Italian politics and society at Università di Pavia (via
• Rinaldi, Niccolò - EPP MEP, Italia dei Valori (via email)
• Speroni, Francesco Enrico - EFD MEP, Lega Nord (via email)


• Pureza, José Manuel - Professor of International Relations at the University of Coimbra, activist of the
B.E. (GUE/NGL) and former deputy at the Portuguese parliament (via email)
• Rodrigues, Maria João - Professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and in the Lisbon University
Institute, known as the mother of the Lisbon Strategy and former Minister of Employment in Portugal
(in person)
• Gomes, Ana - S&D MEP, PS (via telephone)
• Patrão Neves, Maria do Céu - EPP MEP, PSD (via telephone)
• Matias, Marisa - GUE/NGL MEP, B.E. (via email)
• Bearder, Catherine - ALDE MEP, Liberal Democrats (via email)
• Howarth, Christopher - Senior Political Analyst for Open Europe (via email)
• Read, Rupert - Green candidate for European elections (via email)