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.