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European Parliament elections are coming in 2019 and on several occasions I have heard various public figures arguing about their importance and that it is very important to show up and vote. However, no explanation was provided as why it is so.

This article shows some data about how low the voter turnout is for some European Union countries:

the eight EU member states with the lowest turnout were from the former Communist bloc, with the lowest turnout recorded in Slovenia (24.55 %), Czech Republic (18.20 %) and Slovakia (13.05 %)

Romania is not mentioned, but it also belong to this category with a fairly modest turnover of about 30%.

I am interested in a simple explanation one might provide to a regular folk living in one of these countries about the importance of voting in 2019 EU Parliament elections. By "regular folk" I understand a person who (this is mostly based on first hand experience in Romania, but it might be relevant for other Easter Europe countries) knows about EU ecosystem something like the following lines:

  1. Rather low political literacy - there is no clear separation between European Union, European Commission and European Parliament. Basically there is only one entity out there, namely the EU.

  2. Financing - the EU gives us money using some convoluted mechanism, thus allowing us to have better infrastructure, develop tourism etc.

  3. Messing with tradition - EU is against some of our tradition, such as the way we are slaughtering the animals (animal welfare)

  4. Freedom of movement - EU allows to easily visit and/or work in a another EU member state

Since a member state virtually cannot be forced to exit EU, most take the advantage of being part of EU for granted and see no utility in voting in these elections.

Question: How to explain the importance of European Parliament elections to a regular folk living in Eastern Europe?

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    The logically prior question is "are European Parliament elections important to regular folk living in Eastern Europe?" There is a very legitimate argument that they are not very important. They are certainly less important than domestic national elections, and in many respects are less important than domestic sub-national elections, or for that matter, less important that non-governmental private sector elections like elections for union leaders or church officers in religious denominations where they are democratically elected. The E.U. parliament's powers are quite modest. – ohwilleke Mar 14 at 22:09
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    I mentioned this question in a meta post on summary-requests. After looking through your question, I'm not sure if the tag really fits here. Feel free to add it if you want or to leave it out if you think it doesn't fit. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Mar 26 at 18:28
  • @JJJ - I think it fits and I have added it. Also, I find out your meta question very useful. – Alexei Mar 26 at 21:45
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+100

It is an important question, but it is also quite difficult to answer because even important things that were shaped by the European Parliament and European Commission, like the Single Market, could not have happened without the direct support of the national governments. The national government provided the political will and the European institutions were the place where the details were settled. So, it is an important place but it matters in a complicated way.

Therefore I would avoid details (e.g., it decides the budget) and try something like this instead:

The European Parliament is the public forum of Europe and where all the debates are settled. That should be reason enough. But it is even more important now because nobody knows what is going to happen in the EU in the next 5 years: some people want more integration, some people want less. And after Brexit, a lot of decisions will have to be made. So whether you want to give the EU more powers or less powers, this is the time to care. And since the European Parliament is the only European institution you can vote for, voting in this election is your best chance to influence what happens and choose who is going to speak for your country.

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    +1. I have highlighted the core idea of the answer to be conveyed to the regular folk. – Alexei Mar 21 at 5:07
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Explain some of what's at stake...

Last I looked at one (> 10 years ago), the EU budget had two main chapters: a bunch of subsidies to farmers in the name of keeping them afloat (should they become useful e.g. in a war where food suppliers from outside the EU can't deliver); and a bunch of subsidies to Europe's poorer regions in the name of trying to turn, say, Romania’s Nord-Est region, into something more like Bavaria. Recent EU members in Central and Eastern Europe are all net recipients of both, and there's a consequential amount of money involved, so it might be worth having a reasonably democratic say on how it's spent.

Next, the European Parliament is an actual check on the Commission and the Council's powers, and on the lobbies that operate behind closed doors in the latter two. See for instance what's going on with the EU Copyright Directive. Speaking of which, and in stark contrast with what ohwilleke wrote in a comment, the EP has a lot more influence nowadays than what it did in the past. It can block a directive or a regulation it doesn't like, if only for long enough to draw public attention to it when not in practice.

In case the difference is unclear to your audience, regulations apply EU-wide to member states directly. Once a regulation gets approved by the EP, it is only formalities away from becoming law across the EU -- no national parliament vote needed, at all. If you don't vote for EP elections, you've no say on regulations that will end up applying to you.

Directives also apply EU-wide, but with a level of indirection. That is, after a process similar to that of regulations, they must get transcribed into local law by a certain deadline by member state parliaments. This allows to have a minimum standard across the EU, and whatever peculiarities member states wish on top. Such is the case, for instance, of the Animal Welfare Directive you mentioned in your question.

Now, the point to keep in mind here is that a significant portion of legislation voted by member state parliaments is actually related to EU directives in some form or shape. Put another way, even when your local national MPs are voting, they're actually transcribing into local law what has actually been decided in Brussels and Strasbourg most of the time. And they must vote the minimum standard whether they like it or not. That should give pause to most of your audience.

If not, drive the point further: a very frequent pattern from 20 years ago still seems to occur today. Namely, the media rarely reports on what's going on in the EC and the EP. Yet as we've noted, that's actually where a lot of the decision making is occurring. When the Council meets, things get pushed forward, and member state leaders engage in scratch my back and I'll scratch yours behaviors behind closed doors. The EC takes notes on what they're up to, and comes up with new directives accordingly. The EP passes them, with nobody caring or noticing because the media isn't paying attention. And then member state governments and MPs end up "holding the bag", saying it's all Brussel's fault -- the latter somewhat genuinely, the former much less so.

The EC, in other words, is a rather convenient scapegoat to pass unpopular reforms without national buy-in. And the main way to put an end to this type of scapegoating, besides calling out your local media and pushing for EU reform, is to participate in EP elections so it can more democratically hold the EC (and the Council) accountable.

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    This is an interesting answer, but I think it has the following issues: it is very long and rather convoluted for a regular folk and also lacking any references. I was thinking about answers along the answers to a similar question: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/139/… – Alexei Mar 20 at 12:41
  • I don't think there's a one-size fits all reply that will catch everyone's interest. But I do think the is merit in raising the main two issues (how the EU budget and regulations/directives affect them) to explain what's at stake. My intent in this answer was to sketch out both and give you some meat to populate "tell me more?" types of questions. – Denis de Bernardy Mar 21 at 5:44

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