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23.05.2019 Europe

EU Elections - As the polls open, what's at stake?

By - RFI
European Union
MAY 23, 2019 EUROPE

Citizens of the 28 member states of the European Union begin voting this Thursday to elect their representatives to the 751-seat European Parliament

The elections which run over four days and end on Sunday, represent one of the world's largest democratic processes.

So with an estimated 400million people eligible to cast their ballot, what's at stake?

First, a quick reminder -  the European project rose from the ashes of World War II to ensure centuries of national rivalry among European states would never again culminate in the slaughter of millions as happened between 1914 and 1945. 

However, disaffection and disillusionment has tarnished the EU's shine as the two world wars recede from living memory. 

The fall and rise
Further moves towards a more federalist, integrated Europe... have been met by a resurgence in nationalistic rhetoric, each specific to individual member states... culminating in an increasingly Euro-sceptic society. 

The global economic crash of a decade ago, the migrant inundation from North Africa and the Middle East, and a seemingly detatched and monolithic bureaucracy calling the shots from Brussels, has brought national self-interest and mistrust to the fore.

And this has played into the hands of Far-Right groups and conservative populists with formerly peripheral parties such as France's Far Right "Front National", re-branding in the hope of gaining more support from traditionally mainstream voters.

Accroding to Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, who heads the Paris brach of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the impact of this re-branding on electorate should be taken with regard to the change of tack within Euro-sceptic parties and their stance towards Brussels.

"Part of the re-branding is also trying to change discourse on the European Union and on the European project. In the case of France, if you look at the National Front - now the National Rally - when Le Pen was campaigning for the presidential election in 2017, she was campaigning for exiting the Eurozone and she's not doing that any more."

And this change of approach appears to have become a common thread across most of the ascendent Euro-sceptic parties within the EU.

"They used to position themselves, most of the parties, as clearly anti-EU parties", says Lafont Rapnouil. "Now they try to say 'we're not anti-EU, we just don't like the existing EU."

With all this talk of polarisation, is there a middle-ground that can be reclaimed in these EU elections?

Well, that's what one would hope seeing as the EU and its institutions have been built on finding common ground despite political affiliation and cultural differences.

However it would appear that it's the political parties who have become more polarised not necessarily the electorate.

According to Lafont-Rapnouil, "you could say there is a polarisation of the debate, of the political landscapes between parties, but there is no polarisation of voters. On the contrary, the striking thing is the huge volatility and uncertainty of voters. Many voters don't know if they're going to vote. If they're going to vote, they may not know who they're going to vote for.

"And if they think they know who they're going to vote for, they tell you that they could change their mind, including and up until the last minute."

What's the potential outcome?
Accroding to observations from the European Council on Foreign Affaits, the far-right and Eurosceptic parties are expected to make gains in these elections, potentially increasing their representation from 25 per-cent to 33 per-cent of the seats at the European Parliament, but gains are also expected among the Social Democrats, the liberal ALDE grouping and the Greens.

However, the centre-right European People's Party will still retain the majority of seats in the bloc.

However, it must be noted that if the Euro-sceptics intend to shut-down the democratic process within the EU parliament, it will be the Greens who stand to become the king-makers... or bill-makers in any case... in the make up of the next european assembly. 

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