While European parties are getting ready for the European Parliament elections taking place in May 2019, trust in traditional parties is currently at a low. What is more, only half of the population reports any interest in the election and turnout has been declining over the last seven elections. Interestingly enough, support for European Union membership is now at a high across countries, but that does not mean traditional parties are assured of support. While they are trying to get voters’ attention, new transnational lists and populist movements are becoming increasingly popular.
What does this mean?
The EU’s approach to many pressing challenges, such as the migration issue but also economic or environmental topics, has shown Europeans that it has difficulties acting as a united front and arriving at pan-EU solutions. This has given rise to a number of self-proclaimed pan-European movements across the political spectrum: the left progressive DiEM25, led by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, similar-minded VOLT, which came into existence shortly after the Brexit referendum, a broader pan-European identitarian movement called Generation Identity, and recently, former White House chief advisor Steve Bannon announced The Movement, to mobilize right-wing and Eurosceptic populist voters.
In February, the EU parliament rejected a proposal for transnational lists in the elections. According to the biggest party in parliament, the European People’s Party, MEPs “without constituencies and without responsibility” should not be able to be elected. What further helps the established parties is that there are signs that voters’ sentiments towards Europe may become more positive. The Brexit has led many young voters to stand up for Europe and the unpopular Trump is a common external enemy who helps Europeans unite. But the question remains whether traditional parties can benefit from this. The mere existence of pan-European movements pressures traditional parties to increase their legitimacy.