european populists Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Europe’s Critical Election

Ahead of the European Parliament election in May 2019, nationalist parties across Europe are unifying behind a message that is clear, forceful, and, for many, compelling. If Europe's defenders are to win, they will need to offer a vision that is similarly powerful – and not hide behind French President Emmanuel Macron.

MADRID – Discussions about Europe-wide elections are invariably infused with expectations of dramatic change that rarely, if ever, are met. But the upcoming European Parliament election in May 2019 may break the mold, as it could determine the outcome of an ongoing struggle between two visions for Europe’s future: progress toward greater openness and interconnectedness or a reversion to divisive and blinkered nationalism.

Previous European Parliament elections have been preceded by promises that the vote would mean something to the electorate. But, whatever structural and institutional changes have occurred, from increasing the body’s powers to introducing new campaigning procedures, the results have remained lackluster.

With voters unconvinced that European Parliament elections have any concrete impact, domestic political calculations dominate, with citizens using their votes – when they bother to vote at all – to send signals to national parties and punish incumbents. In fact, even as the European Parliament has gained more authority, voter turnout in European elections has steadily decreased since 1979, reaching a low of 42.5% in 2014.

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