By Nikolas Spanoudakis

Every new year is a year full of surprises. As nobody can predict the future we are always getting excited with the arrival of a new year and everything it brings with it. So it is with 2019. However for us, the European citizens, 2019 comes with an especially important event: the European elections. The challenges that the European Union (EU) faces are numerous and demanding and thus it is worth expressing our opinions about them, discussing them and finally: casting our votes.

The European elections take place every five years and this time, we will be voting from the 23d till the 26th of May 2019 (depending on the country we live in). During this time, the European citizens have their chance to vote for their favourite candidate as Member of the European Parliament (MEP), the only European institution which is directly elected by European citizens. Therefore if we want a democratic EU, the least we can do is to participate in this process and cast our votes. And as a matter of fact, this year’s election is expected to bring some considerable changes.

The projections conducted up till now predict a significant shift of voters who are expected to walk away from traditional political parties and vote for something new; may that “new” be green parties or anti-establishment, eurosceptic parties. This has been the trend in the recent local elections in Bavaria where the Social Democrats (SPD) lost a considerable amount of their electorate while the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) almost doubled their power. This political transformation, as seen in Germany, creates a new balance of power which puts in question the traditional way of running the EU as a product of compromise between the conservatives and the socialists.

Although it is risky to generalize and expect a similar pattern in the European elections, it is quite sure that the political landscape in the new European Parliament will change as a reflection of a shift of the public debate towards the GAL-TAN scale.

Shifting away from the left-right political spectrum

While for the past 50 years the public debate has moved between the right-left dipole, it is quite clear that the global problems of the 21st century tend to shift the debate towards a new scale where the two endpoints represent on the one hand a Green, Alternative, Libertarian (GAL) approach and on the other hand a Traditional, Authoritarian, Nationalist (TAN) approach. This shift can vividly be observed in the debate on migration in Europe: there are those who see the suffering of refugees and immigrants and adopt a welcoming, open approach and those who see the same people as a menace and try to keep them outside the borders of their country. Respectively, when the debate comes to climate change there are those who push for immediate action to tackle climate challenges, and there are others who adopt a Trump-ish approach in believing that “business as usual” is a viable way to go as climate change is not a real threat – a hoax, even. Climate change and migration are maybe the two most indicative issues which re-orientate the public debate on a European level. Yet the EU is not effective in tackling them partly because of its intrinsic institutional problems. Could an institutional transformation of the EU lead to better results?

Going federal could be a solution

Indeed, the migration crisis of 2015 has made clear something that we knew already: the intergovernmental way of running the EU is condemned to lead to stalemates. To this date, it remains seemingly impossible to reach a commonly acceptable solution for a European asylum policy, or even a European mechanism for protection of the external borders. This situation is only a reflection of the absence of a common vision about the EU and it allows certain countries to boycott any solution in the name of the protection of their national interests.

At the same time, the European citizens expect this malfunctioning (but still struggling) intergovernmental EU – an organisation with no coherent political administration – to compete with super states like China, Russia and the USA. This is an ambitious but hopeless expectation. How can the EU compete efficiently with states which have a well established political system? How can the EU coordinate sufficient resources in order to compete with for example the USA in fast developing fields such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence, when its budget is just a fraction as compared with the ones of its competitor, and when there is no competence to collect taxes?

A federal EU can be a dream in order to escape the current political stalemate and address some global challenges. It would be far from perfect but maybe our only way to gain sovereignty on a global level and certainly a political construct that we could be proud of. Or do we prefer to remain in the current EU, a mere shadow of what it can really be?

Time to make a responsible choice

The EU currently stands before some important crossroads. An answer for its future direction needs to be given in the 2019 elections. It is crucial to take some time and contemplate what kind of EU we want before we cast our votes. So form your own opinion and discuss it with your friends and relatives. We need to discuss the EU! Get active in social media by telling everybody that #thistimeImvoting or #denhärgångenröstarjag and spread the word. If we want the EU to become more democratic, then the first step is to vote massively in these elections. But most importantly if we want the EU to remain meaningful for us, then we have to give it meaning ourselves!

Nikolas Spanoudakis graduated from a master in chemistry for renewable energy and ever since sustainability is a key aspect of his life. But quite recently he realised that he has to fight for another important element in his life: the European Union. Thus, he decided to become a little champion of the EU. The result is doubtful but he is sure that the cause is good. Let’s see what happens!

Cover photo: From last year’s European Youth Event (EYE2018) in Strasbourg, where more than 8 000 young people participated to discuss their visions for future Europe. © European Union 2018 – European Parliament (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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