IN MAY, WILL EUROPEANS GET WHAT THEY VOTE FOR? THERE’S REASON TO BELIEVE THE ANSWER IS YES
As the European elections are coming up, campaigns are again calling for the people to have their say on the EU’s future. The picture isn’t as clear as it is in national-level elections, however. European integration is not yet at the point where we vote for European-level parties that will then represent us in Brussels and Strasbourg: instead, the link between national-level and European-level parties is unclear to many citizens. Moreover, we’re not sure if the elections decide the Commission President.
While problems remain, there’s reason for optimism too: on questions of European integration, what if European Parliament groups better reflect the views of voters than national-level parties do?
In 2013, looking at data from the 2009 European elections and the 2009–2014 European Parliament, Zoe Lefkofridi and Alexia Katsanidou made this exact finding.  According to their study, all parties (apart from the left-wing GUE/NGL group) stood between their national-level member parties, and their voters, on the pro-integration/anti-integration axis. At the same time, all pro-European parties were more supportive of the EU than were their national-level member parties.
In other words, voters were comparatively pro-European, and it was the European-level parties that could better represent the voters’ opinion on this.
At the same time, according to the scholars, both citizens’ vote choice at European elections and parties’ choice of European-level alliance seem to be dictated rather by questions on the left-right dimension rather than by stances on EU integration. Given this information, we can be all the more pleased that European-level parties are close to citizens on questions of integration. Even if voters have other things in mind when they go to the ballots, EU-level parties have them covered.
In 2019, it’s Europe that counts
For a long time, pro-European movements have implored candidates and voters to focus on European affairs in European Parliament elections. In a 2018 paper, Zoe Lefkofridi and Alexia Katsanidou found that the divide between pro-European and anti-European groupings widened in 2009–2014. Intuitively, one would expect this to continue in the 2019 election that has already been dubbed as a big EU-wide ‘referendum on Europe’.
When you pull the puzzle together, the conclusion is somewhat encouraging. If the European-level parties represent us today like they did in the 2013 study, and if next year’s elections really are a vote on the direction of the EU, we can safely say that the electorate is going to get what it votes for. At the same time, the various pro-European movements aim to help pro-integrationist candidates to victory, and to increase the voter turnout. If the pro-Europeans succeed in these objectives, after the elections there will be a strong claim to make that the people gave our MEPs a mandate to pursue a stronger EU.