The European elections are your chance to stand up for what you believe in
We must fight populists where they are weak: with action not words. With hope not fear. With unity over division.
A campaign area to encourage EU citizens to vote in the European Parliament elections on display at Luxembourg Station in Brussels, Belgium, 22 May 2019. The European Parliament elections are being held by member countries of the European Union (EU) from 23 to 26 May 2019. EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET
This week Europeans will take to the polls in the largest transnational democratic exercise anywhere in the world. Some 427 million people in 28 countries will be voting for the members of the European Parliament that will represent them. In doing so, they will also be determining the direction European politics will take for the next five years.
Admittedly, the European Parliament elections have long suffered from a great deal of voter apathy. You often hear people justifying their abstention by saying ‘what difference would my vote alone make anyway?’.
The thing is, imagine everyone thought like this. When taking to the polls, each and every European should vote imagining that everyone will vote and take responsibility for the consequences this would have for our continent.
Because it does matter. It matters for our planet if we vote in MEPs who are going to lead the charge against climate change. It matters for our jobs whether we vote in MEPs who will work to protect workers’ rights in the digital age. It matters for our security whether we vote in MEPs who are going to stand up for Europeans in a world where powers old and new have decided either to go it alone or play by their own rules. Europe serves you - not the other way round. Voting is how you make sure of this.
In each country, there will be candidates who will shout loudly that Europe is never the answer, that it eats away at our national identity. I do not believe this to be true. There are a great number of areas where Europe’s nations can simply achieve more together than they can alone - for instance when it comes to standing up to tech giants, securing our external borders, concluding trade deals or cleaning up the world’s oceans of plastic waste.
And so we must fight populists where they are weak: with action not words. With hope not fear. With unity over division. And with a clear plan for a better future, not a nostalgia for a past that never existed.
When I was elected as President of the European Commission, my mandate was clear: to focus on the things that matter most to Europeans. And this is exactly what we have done. There are now 240 million Europeans at work - more than ever before. Unemployment is at a record low this century. Wages are up by 5.7%. We now have a dedicated European Border and Coast Guard to help protect our borders, even if we still have to finish the work we started on this and bring the number of EU border guards up to 10,000. We can now roam like at home wherever we are in the Union and we can stream using our subscriptions even when in another EU country. Our companies can now trade with Japan and Canada without paying any tariffs, thanks to the world’s largest trade agreements.
But Europe is not just about numbers and statistics - it is about shared values. Europe is about the 120,000 young people who are volunteering through the European Solidarity Corps to help rebuild areas hit by an earthquake in Italy. Europe is about the Polish firefighters greeted as heroes on the streets of Sweden as they came to help put out wildfires. Europe is about the 30,000 young people travelling across the continent by train thanks to the DiscoverEU programme and the 10 million Erasmus students exploring new cultures, histories and languages.
Along the way, we have been tested in many different ways. Every time we emerged stronger and more united. We ensured Greece stayed in the euro against all odds and predictions. We reduced the number of people arriving on our shores irregularly by 90 per cent , even when some said the migration crisis was unmanageable. And we all stood together when one of our own, the United Kingdom, decided to leave our Union.
We can always do more and do better. But all of this has reinvigorated our Union. It has reminded us that our Union should not be taken for granted - it must be fought for, every day. Public opinion is at a 27 year high. In Ireland, 85% think EU membership is a good thing and 83% would vote to remain if there was a referendum tomorrow.
But building Europe never stops. Lest we forget, only 30 years have passed since the Iron Curtain was drawn back and the Berlin Wall reduced to rubble. Europeans have always fought for their rights, their freedoms, their values, their sovereignty. And today should be no different.
The European election on 24 May is your opportunity to make your voice heard, to stand up for what you believe in. As we each stand alone in our voting booth, we know that we all have the same power and influence over our common future. We are all Europe that day. We all have our destiny in our hands.
Jean-Claude Juncker is president of the European Commission