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Europe’s Non-European Elections

While European Union member states cooperate on issues like economic policy and climate change, the EU lacks a distinct political identity. Unless EU leaders are held accountable to European voters, the upcoming European Parliament elections are unlikely to cultivate a transnational space for pan-European policy debates.

VIENNA – The first-ever debate between the candidates for the European Commission’s presidency late last month failed to provide a compelling reason for Europeans to participate in June’s European Parliament elections. Instead, it exposed some inconvenient and embarrassing truths about the bloc’s political system.

For starters, there is nothing distinctly European about these elections. Voters across the European Union will cast their ballots on different dates: Dutch citizens will vote on June 6; Irish on June 7; Czechs, Slovaks, Latvians, and Maltese on June 8; and the rest on June 9. Moreover, different electoral laws apply, with the voting age set at 16 in Austria, Belgium, and Germany; 17 in Greece; and 18 in the remaining EU member states.

Moreover, the EU lacks a pan-European political-party system. Instead, voters cast their ballots for candidates selected by national, rather than European, parties. Although most national parties participating in the EU elections are affiliated with European political parties like the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), or Identity and Democracy (ID), the latter remain relatively obscure and unfamiliar to the average voter.