FRANKFURT – European elections seem to follow an all-too-familiar pattern; when the European Union’s citizens are called upon to express what they think, they simply do not show up. Despite the Spitzenkandidat experiment, under which European top-runners were supposed to compete for the most important EU job – the presidency of the European Commission – voters did not feel mobilized.
This should come as no surprise. According to the most recent EU-wide opinion poll, 58% of EU citizens do not believe that they can influence EU decision-making. Similarly, the marked gains made by far-right political parties in the just-completed European Parliament election were no great shock. These groups have been able to capitalize on the economic and social pain felt in many EU member states, especially given that the majority of Europeans are unconvinced that the worst is over.
Moreover, right-wing populist parties took advantage of growing public frustration with the EU itself. Many European citizens oppose the idea of “more Europe,” the mantra of EU traditionalists in the two major party families, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats.
The influence of widening disparities between the EU’s affluent “North” and the stumbling “South,” with France in the middle (but heading south), was also evident. And the massive prosperity gap between “old” and “new” EU member states continues to determine voting patterns.