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12 июня 2024
Photo by Beiimbet Moldagali.

The European Elections Through People’s Voices

More than 180 million people across the continent voted for the European Parliament

The European Elections Through People’s Voices

Beiimbet Moldagali, Vlast, Brussels.

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Voting for the European Parliament ended on Sunday night, marking a strengthening of the right-wing and ultra-right parties. Residents of the European Union (EU) voted to select 720 deputies, who would eventually propose a new “government”, the European Commission. As the counting of the ballots continues, the political trajectory of the vote seems to have been driven by domestic politics as well as the war in Ukraine, migration, and the green transition.

A Vlast correspondent traveled to Brussels to cover the elections and speak to people about their expectations, the political environment, and the need for compromise.

Small detached houses along narrow streets line Brussels’s landscape, interrupted only by landmark buildings and cathedrals. Just south of the historical center, there is an area with gray and glass buildings adorned with the flag of the EU, where the European Parliament and the European Commission are housed.

The political climate in Brussels was not tense, despite it being at the core of the EU. Most of the electoral posters hung near restaurants and cafes focused on regional and local elections in Belgium, not on the ones for the European Parliament.

Schaerbeek: Climate Change, Taxing the Rich, and Fascism

Schaerbeek is a municipality located in the northeastern part of Brussels. Most residents here speak French. The polling stations here are noticeably lively. Belgium traditionally has a high turnout in elections for the European Parliament. In the last round in 2019, turnout in the country was 88.47%, while the European average was just over 50%. Participation in elections is mandatory in Belgium: Those who do not vote are subject to a fine.

The police barred journalists from entering the polling station. We had to obtain permission from the local administration in advance. But some of the voters leaving the polling stations stopped to answer our questions. “I would love to answer your questions, but I stood in line for two hours and now my knees hurt,” a man complained.

For Morgen, a 22-year-old marketing specialist, this was the first election. She admits that the choice was difficult for her, especially due to the fact that voting for the European Parliament is combined with local elections. It was not easy for her to choose a party, because of a lack of political awareness.

“To be honest, I didn’t know much about the election. It all looks like а war. It's all marketing at the end of the day,” Morgen said. “I couldn't distinguish between objective and subjective information, so I voted based on what I heard around me and saw in the media. But in any case, I think there wasn’t enough explanation for the youth about what is expected of us and how things work in Belgium or Europe.”

Morgen.

Morgen doesn't trust politicians. She thinks that, in politics, there is “more talk than real action.” The most important issue for her in this election was the environment and climate change. Morgen says her generation is aware of climate change and cares about the environment. She voted with the hope that work on the environmental agenda would become a staple of EU politics.

"I think people want change, but they're not willing to get out of their comfort zone. We could implement measures that would, in a way, force change, without excesses. For instance, making train travel more accessible than plane travel, so that we favor rail transport,” says Morgen.

For 24-year-old student Theo from Belgium, this was the second election. This time he voted for a different party from the one he chose five years ago. He considered climate change as an important issue in this election.

According to him, the EU should be “more realistic.”

“The EU must accept that the world is not necessarily what we want it to be. This can be seen in the war in Ukraine, the influence of China and Russia on Africa,” says Teo.

Teo.

Véronique, 60, also switched party allegiance.

"I would like rich people to pay more taxes. They benefit from the EU, so let them pay more. There has been nothing like this for the last five years,” the woman says.

She added that these measures should be taken at the EU level.

"I think the same should be done for the wealthiest people. They took advantage of the system connected to the European Social Fund and enriched themselves because of it,” says Véronique.

Brussels-born Mohammed, 55, cast his vote for the first time this year. He had not voted before because he did not agree with any party.

“Now that I have children, there is responsibility. I see that the government we have, to put it mildly, is going to hell,” he says.

Mohammed disagrees with local community development plans, such as parking spaces. On the ballot he noticed the names of people from this community who can bring about change.

Regarding the European elections, Mohammed believes that the coalitions should work together. He is unhappy with the work of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, especially over the issue of Palestine.

"She must take responsibility for what's going on. We’re from Europe, the center of the world. Our economy is strong, but we're controlled by global flows of money and weapons. We also work more for the outside world than for ourselves. Before cleaning up the neighbor's yard, we should clean up our own. We ask for basic things like food and water. And human rights, too,” says Mohammed.

He sees no contradiction between supporting Palestine and calling for more attention to Europe's internal problems; these two issues are linked through racism, he argues. Racism is still a problem in Europe, especially Italy, according to him.

"Meloni is a fascist. I see fascism growing stronger across Europe. There's also a lot of noise against candidates for the local administration, because many of them are Arabs or Turks,” he says.

Mohammed.

“You Got to Prioritize Issues You Agree with Most”

Outside the building hosting members of the international press, by the EU Parliament, politicians, as well as activists gather for comments and demonstrations. Some activists protest against the far right, and some are calling on the EU to fund more sex education. Ordinary citizens walk by.

“I’ve been voting since I was 20 years old,” says Christina, a pensioner from Greece living in Brussels. She always voted for one party and this year was no exception.

She expects Europe to remain united after this election, despite the growth of far-right voices. “I want the voice of the EU to be louder when it comes to the war between Israel and Palestine,” Christina adds.

Svenja, 20, and Denis, 21, are students from Germany and this is their second EU election, because the voting age in Germany is 16. Svenja voted for a different party from the previous round. She said that both she and the party had changed. Denis, on the other hand, gave his preference to the same party once again.

“I'm not happy with them, but they are the majority party. In Germany, when you don’t know who to vote for, you vote for the moderates, because they never really change. In Germany we have the Wahl-O-Mat [a special election portal that helps voters stay informed about the parties]. You select among several political and social issues and it tells you the party closer to your preferences. Some read brochures or websites, but many use Wahl-O-Mat. I am more of a leftist, but they disappointed me after all the scandals in Germany,” says Denis.

He also supports open borders and research collaborative networks.

“What I don't like is that one EU member can veto crucial decisions. For example, Romania and Bulgaria cannot enter the Schengen Zone because of Austria. Or [Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor] Orban, who vetoes certain sanctions against Russia,” says Denis.

Both students also believe that the values ​​of the party for which they vote and the values ​​of the coalitions in which these parties belong are not always consistent with each other.

"It's all about compromise in Germany. No one gets what they want. But I think compromise is normal now. People in Germany are unhappy with sanctions, and the wars in Ukraine and in Israel. Wages in Germany are shrinking, prices are soaring, it's becoming financially harder,” says Denis.

"Many parties fell short. They will always say things you disagree with. So, you just have to prioritize the things you agree with the most," adds Svenja.

Denis and Svenja.

Denis says he dreams of one day working for the EU in Brussels, because “the EU is the best thing we have created.”

Jeanna and Anaelle are students from Belgium and France. They admit that it was easy for them to choose parties, because they study international relations and have a clear picture of their political preferences. According to Anaelle, the issue of climate change and ecology should be on the agenda of all parties.

"In my ideal world, I wouldn't have to vote for an ecological party. [They should all] by default support ecology. But in France, ecology is a separate issue, so I have to vote for a party that raises this issue," says Anaelle.

Jeanna believes that the EU is doing an excellent job economically, but must change its approach to migration and the “externalization” of borders.

“This is not a good idea, we would benefit more from a progressive approach. Border externalization is the act of putting up imaginary borders off the coasts of Turkey and Libya so that these countries keep ‘illegal’ migrants, without any respect for human rights. We need to create safe paths for these people,” says Jeanna.

Anaelle would like young people to be more involved in politics. Both young women are glad that several more countries have allowed people aged 16 to vote this year and believe that more countries should follow suit. They also add that elections should be compulsory.

Filippo.

Italian IT consultant Filippo, 32, says he wouldn't vote for a party if he didn't agree with its position on at least one issue.

“I don’t see anything that is very far from my beliefs [in the party I chose],” he says.

Filippo wants a more united, stronger EU, with better connections between countries and people of different backgrounds.

“More Europe is better than less Europe! To be honest, I would like to see a United Nations of Europe. I probably won’t see this in my life, but hopefully my grandchildren will,” says Filippo.