Red card to the parties that still don’t have an election manifesto

, by Louise Guillot, Translated by Juuso Järviniemi

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Red card to the parties that still don't have an election manifesto
Photo: Antoine Schibler / JEF France. European flag at Esplanade du Trocadéro in Paris at the JEF France election campaign launch on 17 March 2019.

We are now less than one month from the European elections of 23–26 May, held everywhere in the EU. We could think that the campaign is in full swing, that debates between candidates are vivid like in all elections, but no. Unfortunately, it seems that this election campaign, like previous European elections, doesn’t manage to excite crowds. Why all the ignorance? Louise Guillot writes from the French perspective in an article originally published on our sister edition Le Taurillon on 30 April.

Weak mediatisation and cacophony

We all remember the debate between lead candidates of French parties on 4 April, in prime time on the France 2 channel, or rather our urge to change the channel as neither candidates nor journalists managed to be audible that evening. Perhaps, for example, they should have begun to address the topics of environmental protection, fight against climate change or social Europe a bit before 11pm in order to keep the audience tuned in (an idea for the next time, maybe).

I recognise that some may find it crazy to try to make TV audiences interested in this topic that is systematically called “too complex” and “too distant from daily life”, namely the topic of Europe. But rest assured, there are ways to talk about Europe in an easy, simple way. Look at how the Whip. YouTube channel, or JEF-France, put in simple words the subject of Europe that concerns us all.

Because yes, ultimately the European elections are about choosing the direction of our common destiny. By choosing to send even more nationalist and populist forces to the Parliament plenary chamber, the European project will once again move more towards a retreat to national boundaries. Do I want to live in this kind of a Europe of illiberal democracies and of nations that want to close their borders? The answer is a clear no.

Like in every European election, there is cause for concern when so-called “progressive” parties are quarrelling over which is the most pro-European. But when they are neither capable of uniting against the rise of the extremes, nor of presenting simply and clearly their ideas for transforming Europe, or even of remembering the names of their candidates, there is even more reason to worry.

Parties which still don’t have a programme

Less than a month before the elections, certain French parties, including President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche, and the alliance between the social democratic Place Publique and the Socialist Party, had still not published their programme for the European elections. (Translator’s note: As of the publication date of the translation, both lists have published their programmes.) So voters did know that ones “want Europe”, and that the others want a “European renaissance” [1], but apart from that we didn’t know much – and even less about what they want to do once they’re seated in the European Parliament. [2]

So how can the parties hope to make voters interested in European issues, or mobilise them to the ballot boxes on 26 May, if voters don’t have any idea what these parties stand for and how Europe works? Having a manifesto with a beautiful layout and pretty colours isn’t only useful for looking good and for filling up the main page of your website. Above all, it shows the voters that the party takes these elections seriously, and that it has ideas and the willingness to defend them at the European level, as that is the most appropriate level to act.

Not presenting a programme is a problem in itself because it reinforces an already strongly rooted phenomenon: of making European elections a second-order election focused on national issues and punishing the government of the day. However, not presenting a programme also means inviting citizens to vote for an individual, because they are well-known or because they speak well, but not for ideas. Personally, I refuse to give my vote to a candidate if I don’t know what they will do with the mandate once elected.

Would you accept it if you gave a €10 banknote to someone so they can go buy a hamburger, and instead they came back with a package of pasta and kept the rest of the money? I wouldn’t.

It’s easy to hide behind the complexity

It’s unacceptable that, systematically, parties barely make a campaign for the European elections. Is this the case for local elections? No (some are already impatient to begin, and only hope for the European elections to be over so they can tackle the 2020 municipal elections). Is this the case for departmental or regional elections? No, there is still mediatisation at the local level. Is this the case for presidential elections? Certainly not.

So why is it so complicated to campaign for the European elections, to present ideas and to debate? I’ll still address the argument of complexity which goes like “Europe is too complex, too distant from people’s daily lives”, or “it’s only for those who travel”.

It is true that mobile citizens benefit more from the opportunities offered by the EU, thanks to the free movement of people or to the Schengen Area, for example. But it’s also thanks to Europe that in the supermarket they prefer to give you reusable bags instead of plastic bags to reduce waste. It’s also thanks to the EU that we can watch big sports events like the Olympics for free on public service channels. It’s also thanks to the Single Market that some will buy a cheaper car from Belgium, and that some will get new fashionable sneakers sent to them from Germany or Italy without even realising that they’re paying in euros every day (and no, the prices of baguette have not increased because of the common currency).

So I could also evoke numerous projects financed thanks to European funds: a motorway here, a research project there, a training programme or the youth guarantee, as well as less well-known ones like the fact that the EU also supports artistic creation and that it’s partly thanks to that that some films selected for the Cannes Film Festival like Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Pedro Almoldóvar’s Julieta or Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake were made. But you would retort that France is a net contributor to the EU budget, and I would respond to you that it’s difficult to calculate the value of solidarity.

It’s true that the EU isn’t perfect, that there’s still a lot to do to make its functioning more democratic and to bring it closer to the citizens (besides, some – like JEF – have ideas for this) but if even in the year when we talk about Europe thanks to the elections, those who are standing for election aren’t able to explain to us why we should vote for them, this prospect becomes even more distant.

We therefore need to demand more responsibility on the part of those who want to represent us, and that’s why I’ll go vote on 26 May! (For a party that has a manifesto, obviously.)


[1Translator’s note: The author refers to the names of the lists. The coalition between Place Publique and the Socialist Party campaigns under the “Envie d’Europe” banner, while the list of La République en Marche is called “Renaissance”.

[2Translator’s note: France is not the only country where European election manifestos have been released less than a month before the elections. Three other examples:

In the United Kingdom, the Conservatives and the Brexit Party are not expected to release any manifesto at all, while both Labour and the Liberal Democrats released theirs on 9 May.

In Finland, the centre-right National Coalition published their programme on 2 May, the Social Democrats’ manifesto launch was on 6 May, and as of 12 May, the Finns Party has no link to a manifesto under the “European elections 2019” menu on its website. The Centre Party already released their manifesto in April.

In Sweden, the Social Democrats presented their manifesto on 3 May, while the centre-right Moderate Party announced their platform on 4 May.

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