The morning of Thursday 23 May felt like the start of a European Union Christmas. For weeks the city was decorated with festive EU symbols: EU flags waving proudly, posters of smiling candidate faces, and party banners promising the gift of a better EU hanging at every major crossroad in Europe. Festivals and pro-EU demonstrations, including the demonstrations held in 42 EU cities on 19 May, stirred up anticipation and excitement – but also political anxieties. Would the Grinch steal the EU elections?
For months, we were running our Now The Citizens campaign with Meer Democratie Netherlands, aiming to get a hold the most highly sought after presents: prominent candidates for Members of European Parliament (MEP) to pledge to our campaign and become elected. We reached out to nearly 4000 candidates to ask them to pledge for a Europe that not only gives citizens a final say on fundamental EU questions but also brings citizens into the decision-making process early and often. We also launched an open letter signed by nearly 60 NGOs and launched a petition signed by 18.000 citizens calling on future MEPs to put the democratic reform of the EU at the top of the agenda.
The last several months were flooded with emails and phone calls, tweet storms and hunting down candidates and mobilizing our alliance partners. And all European campaign efforts led to the best news of all. The 2nd biggest democratic exercise in the world took place with nearly 500 million citizens in 28 countries being called to vote in a pool of over 10,000 candidates to fill 751 seats. The EU elections saw the greatest voter turnout in two decades! 51% of citizens participated and with more young people participating than ever before. Our homebase of Cologne saw the greatest turnout in all major cities in Germany! We are happy to announce that 335 candidates pledged to our demands from across the EU and from across the political spectrum. Nearly 30 of those are expected to fill their seat. Considering we had highly specific pledge demands about the democratic future we want, this is a good starting point to identify our allies for the next five years. And more importantly, compared to our pledge campaign of 2014, we have a concrete plan for a follow-up.
We need a way to keep MEPs accountable and easily accessible on issues where citizen participation are concerned. For this reason, we are lobbying for the establishment of the first-ever parliamentary intergroup on the future of EU democracy. It’s unacceptable that the last EU Parliament had 28 intergroups, and not one of them remotely related to the topic of democratic participation. Admittedly, it will be no easy task – all formal intergroups will be officially approved and formed by the end of this year. But there is no doubt that we need the European Parliament to explore innovative and creative ways to bring citizens closer to EU decision-making in the next five years and beyond. We also will organize a summer public action including a high-profile kick-off event with our campaign partners. After our pledge campaign, we know which MEPs to seek out and hold accountable to their democratic promises. The first phase of the campaign is over, but the hot phase is still just beginning.
Whether in the five years the EU will receive the major re-haul it needs according to our exact campaign plan is unlikely. But, the EU definitely received a shakeup. If our campaign proved anything, it’s that European citizens, civil society and even politicians are accepting that democratic reform is undeniable if the European Union is to survive in the long run. The next 5 years will be about putting those promises to work.