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The European Parliament elections 2014 will be huge

In just a bit more than two years, the next European Parliament elections will take place and public discussions about the personnel for the 2014 European Parliament elections have already started. But more important than that: These next European Parliament elections will be huge!

They will be huge not just because they decide about the composition of the Union’s first legislative chamber as they have done in the past. This time, they will also be, for the first time ever, decisive for the future leadership of the European Union. And they will be run on real substance, issues that may be understood in the same way by citizens across Europe.

There are two major reasons why this will happen:

  • A) The largest political forces in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Party of European Socialists (PES) will present common European candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission.
  • B) The Pirate Party will be there.

The European Peoples Party that has been dominating EU institutions in the last years has invested a lot of energy in fostering the intra-party cohesion, with pre-summits of EPP leaders ahead of European Council meetings or the coordination of national ministers with EPP colours ahead of ordinary Councils. Recent discussions about Merkel’s implication in the French presidential election campaign have shown that their party politics have started to leave national borders. Whether or not Barroso will run again, the EPP looks very much ready to rally behind a common candidate and to make use of the power network they have built over the last years.

The European Socialists may have learned from their failed campaign last time. They have already agreed in November 2011 to go into the next elections with a single candidate (PDF) for European Commission president. The big question is whether they will find someone with an appeal for all Europeans and whether they can run a campaign that puts both this person and the PES’ issues into a cohesive whole. If they find a strong figure, they will be able to run strongly against the EPP – because if the EPP has been dominating European politics in the years of the European crisis, a good campaign should be able to attribute these failures to their side.

If EPP and PES will be able to present strong candidates and will be able to present themselves as adversarial forces (ideally embodied in the candidates), the political campaign could become more politicised. Current research has indicated that media attention for the EP elections has risen gradually and that especially when issues become heavily politicised the attention raises considerably.

And then there will be another, a new force: The Pirate Party. This weekend, the Pirate Parties International Conference meets in Prague to discuss, among others, a possible European Pirate Party and their strategy for the 2014 EP election campaign. The Pirate Party currently has only two (Swedish) Members of the European Parliament, but recent successes in German regional elections could be a sign that this movement could get some momentum in the next two years.

While EPP and PES may be able to raise the stakes of the election campaign debate by presenting candidates with realistic chances of becoming President of the European Commission, the European Pirate Party could become the first genuine Trans-European party with topics such as digital rights and transparency that may appeal to their (mostly young) target group all across Europe without the need to “nationalise” the message in order to be understood. If they run on topics such as democratic procedures at EU level, they may also be able to grasp the attention of voters who are critical about the way EU institutions work without necessarily being critical to a common European project.

Hence, the European elections will be huge because the old major political forces will be raising the stakes by putting forward common candidates and possibly common campaigns while a new political force may be kicking asses by putting issues on the agenda the other parties may not be willing to talk about about, but that may cost them the necessary voters to become the largest party in the European Parliament that will then be able to propose the candidate for European Commission President.

Update (13 April): @cdhugo pointed me to a text he wrote in Spanish about the polarisation and Europeanisation of party politics last week.


22 Responses to The European Parliament elections 2014 will be huge

  1. avatar Craig Willy says:

    This is potentially exciting. Is there any serious talk on who these candidates might be? I recall that the Socialists agreed to have a candidate before the last elections and… failed to find one.

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    If I remember correctly, the PES was trying to find a candidate but had not made such an early statement of intent to find a common candidate.

    I think it will be very interesting to see whether they find someone behind whom the majority of PES member parties can rally and who also would appeal to voters across the Union. Equally interesting will be to see whether Barroso will (i.e. wants to) run again or whether the EPP will have to go with an alternative. My guess would be that Barroso might want to continue as Europe 2020 is his baby and he might want to raise it until 2019. At the same time, he might also be someone who could follow van Rompuy as European Council President in 2014…

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  6. avatar Malisoko says:

    Better late than never, right?
    Well, here we go.
    1. we obviously disagree on what great means. for you it is indiscriminate +50% [+7% compared to 2009 EP elections]; for me it is +55% [benchmark firstly introduced by the Venice Commission] with turnout of more than 33% in every country [mind that compulsory voting corrupts data].
    2. your reasons for [what you call] success at least need some explanation, so allow me to dissect it a bit.
    a) what you are saying is that PES candidate will make a difference [because EPP had a candidate last time around]. even under the assumption that they manage to come up with a candidate, and even further with a candidate that people could actually vote in favour of, no one cares about the Commission president and certainly adding a

  7. avatar Malisoko says:

    FOREIGN face to the national race [face it, EP elections are still national] surely will not help.
    Secondly, PES and EPP have only recently started acting like parties and there is no need for them to enter the arena fighting, their national parties are doing it already, so there is no difference compared with 2009 in that, either. political tensions come from within the national political spectrum and tend to depend on national issues, approving or disapproving the performance of national govts [mind that in many countries it will serve as litmus for newly elected govts].
    finally, between the two, they had a uniformed EU-wide campaign [PES] which failed miserably and a common candidate [EPP] that no one talked about in national elections.
    b) as for the Pirates, I predict they will burn out before the EP elections, as PES is already trying to overtake their single policy. once ACTA gets archived, Pirates’ single-issue movement will decimate. In times when bread and butter issues dominate the agenda, it is hard to imagine that Pirates can achieve more than putting cyber law to the margins of programmes of other parties. Besides, this type of activism generates high mobilisation and appreciation, but low level of actual turn out [remember Libertas?]. Their recent results are but a combination of rebellion, ACTuAlities and low turnouts. Besides, if you check it, where they grew, they grew at the expense of the other similarly anamorphic, yet more coherent movement – greens [who, btw, scored massively in France yesterday, just like they did during 2009 EP elections, didn’t they]…
    All together, you’re basing your premises on [a wrong] presumption that people care who the president of the EC is, that a change in narratives between EPP and PES will change dynamics of elections on national level and that an issue will be a non-issue in 2 years will mobilise masses to vote…
    all in all, HUGE is a matter of perception…what is huge for you tends to be mediocre for me 😉

  8. avatar Ronny Patz says:


    I admit that I was not as straightforward in the post when avoiding to define what I meant with “huge”. When writing the post I was not really thinking about turnout but more about attention. You were right however to force me to pinpoint this and so on Twitter I said that ~50% turnout would be huge thinking that ~15% more voters would be quite a raise. But let’s take ~55% (~25%) more voters as huge – I would be ready to go for it.

    Having accepted this challenge, let’s go for some of your arguments:

    1) Let’s first remind that the absence of attention to the EPP candidate (Barroso) the last time that there was no serious contender. Without the ability to construct a clear conflict on the level of the persons, the media lack a narrative through which they can draw attention to the persons and politics at hand. So once there is a serious contender, the election machinery can start.

    2) I agree to a certain extent that bread and butter issues may be important. And it is very likely that the main contenders from EPP and PES will fight over such issues, in particular given the experiences of the crisis. This would however be a clear sign of the normalisation of the EP elections, i.e. when European or national parties actually can show their electorate(s) that the composition of the EP matters for bread and butter, both because of the enhanced policy role of the EP since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and because of its political role as President-maker.

    3) I do not think that the wind will have changed for Pirates until 2014. Especially if they manage to enter the German parliament in 2013 they will get enough (Europe-wide) media attention to score decisive points. Maybe ACTA will be dead until then, but given that PES and EPP will rather fight on bread and butter as you point out, the digital rights and internet politics field may be open enough for the Pirates to run a decent campaign. But this alone would not be enough to win a relevant share of seats or to mobilise voters Europe-wide. This is why I pointed to the potential as a pro-European protest party (compared to eurosceptic protest parties). Given that this dimension – protest against the EU (and against governing parties) – has been quite relevant in past EP elections, the Pirates (given they manage to get together on a common strategy) could run on EU-critical issues attracting voters who might not want to vote for nationalist or xenophobic anti-EU parties, voters that might not have gone voting in past elections.

    4) In the end, a lot will indeed depend on candidates, and I acknowledge that my speculations are quite dependent on who will become EPP and PES candidate. But just imagine Barroso does not run again and Donald Tusk is put forward by the EPP and Helle Thorning-Schmidt runs for the PES. Tusk’s candidature could boost turnout in Poland, and if this would just get as many Poles to the ballot boxes as during their previous national elections this would raise the EP election turnout by 3-4 percentage points. Both have European Council and EU Council Presidency experience, both have quite strong European profiles and both are not too controversial across Europe as to be unelectable for a relevant share of European citizens. I’d say that this would give quite an interesting campaign and quite some media attention.

    So in total, I’m not as pessimistic as you are. The European crisis has politicised Europe-wide bread and butter issues, personalisation of left-right economic choices, a possible new pan-European party constellation is in the making and (social media) communication means have advanced the possibility for pan-European campaigning. If all these come together, this would surely raise attention to the EP elections and might well get turnout above 33% in all EU member states and to 55%.

    This scenario is conditional on a number of developments, but it is not totally unlikely.

  9. avatar malisoko says:

    Now, you are making me act like a blogger and add references to what i m saying…
    so, 50% is 7% [SEVEN PERCENT] increase to 2009, not ~15% [mthrfckng reference: European Parliament], ok? and even if you calculate increases in voting population [which i doubt would compensate, but i m willing to accept], methodologically you cannot mix increase in percentages in turnout with percentage of increase in absolute numbers of voters.
    now for 55% [+ additional condition of 33% in each country] i m taking your bet [beer? bottle of wine? rotten tomatoes to throw at the DG MARE?]!
    1) you really think that between national candidates, national parties running for some elections [really, does not matter which] anyone in Slovakia will give a rats ass about ‘a serious PES contender to Barroso for EU Commission presidency’ [which is not even decided in those elections]? Brussels media, yes, EU correspondents of national media, probably, ten bloggers, maybe, the rest – not a rat’s ass.
    Besides, election machinery operates on a state level, campaigning is tailored for national audiences, so ridiculous candidacies could maybe help in countries where candidates come from, but even that is questionable [turnout in Portugal {the only EU member state with a candidate} was 7% lower than the EU average and PSD [Barroso’s party] scored mere 5% more than struggling Socialists [mthrfckng reference:]. this not the US, Ronny, where even W. Mondale will surely take his home state.
    3) [we surprisingly agreed on bread and butter] they are obviously growing at the expense of the greens right now, which means that their electorate is the same bunch of mindless wannabe activists who are saving the world one train station/megaupload at the time. If ACTA dies soon, they still might have some steam to get them to bundestag, but by 2014, we’ll have another major attack of ‘state’ on our environment and those vegan hipsters will go back and vote greens. and i really do not see a huge potential in anti-establishment, pro-european, EU-realists as a voting machine that will get you anywhere. though I agree that Pirates appeal to groups which generally tend not to vote in the EP elections, I doubt that there could be a major qualitative and quantitative impact of their campaign. shift from greens to pirates and back. plus, i reckon they are much much more interested in national policies and that EU is seen as a mean to get money for national campaigns [most of their policies are strictly national].
    Finally, anti-EU spectrum will be filled by all sorts of wackos and loonies, anyhow…
    4) without even going into how silly it would be to expect Tusk to drop the PM post for EC presidency [HTS yes, Danish leaders have a tendency to resign to go and lead an international organisation], i ve already provided you with counterarguments in point 2, referring to Barroso…anyhow, it still would not help to raise turnout in other countries.

    bottom line:
    +55% [+33% in every country] and you win the bet [TBD]

  10. avatar Ron says:

    @ Malisoko

    Just to explain my maths:

    If, in 2009, 43% of the voting age population went to vote and if in 2014 there would be 50% of voters going to the ballot boxes (assuming stable population), then there are 16.3% more people going to vote (which I rounded to ~15%) . This raises the turnout by 7 percentage points.

  11. avatar Ron says:

    EurActiv speculates on a possible candidacy of Viviane Reding on the EPP side.

  12. avatar malisoko says:

    As I said, you can’t really mix turnout percentages and absolute numbers of voters…
    But what do we bet on, finally?

    PS How realistic do you think it is to have ANOTHER EC president from Luxembourg??? 3/12 [i do not recognise Marin to be the Commission president] = 25% by my calculations, 32.5% by yours I would assume [years of mandate/total of years since the EP directly elected, or some other bogus maths] :p

  13. avatar Ronny Patz says:


    Sure I can mix turnout percentages and absolute numbers of voters. If we have 400 million people as voting age population, then 43% is 172 million. In order to get to 50% you need 28 million more voters. 28 million voters is 16.3% of 172 million voters. Thus on a basis of 43% getting 7% more turnout needs 16.3% more voters. Easy maths.

    I bet for the 55% overall and not less than 33% in any country under the condition that EPP and PES both present Commission President candidates and that the Pirates run in at least 50% (i.e. 14) member states. Let’s bet for a bottle of wine from 2009, the year of the last EP elections.

  14. avatar malisoko says:

    we can agree on bottle of 2009 wine [may i suggest Alsatian riesling, symbolising hopefully the last slightly dry and sour EP term that held sessions in Strasbourg {we can dream, at least}]…
    you do realise that by your logic, i could probably find a modality to prove that the turnout has been constant throughout the years with the same level of internal consistency of the argument as for 7% increase is in fact 16.3% increase…
    but we’re moving now from the principal point of this discussion…
    2 years and 3 months till judgment time…or 1545.75 days more or less…

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