Countdown to the European elections: Why should citizens’ concerns be heard?

With a few days to go until the elections, the European Union faces a very different scenario than it did five years ago.The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, energy crises, inflation, and the rise of far-right national tendencies have all reshaped Europeans’ priorities, with the focus shifting to issues such as security, health and the cost of living. But what are the primary concerns of European citizens as they head to the polls?

Looking at the 2024 Spring Eurobarometer, there is a greater interest in voting in comparison to the last elections and we also have fresh insights into the new concerns of European citizens. The most important issues on the minds of those surveyed were the fight against poverty and public health, closely followed by support to the economy and security and defence. While these concerns are a reflection of the challenges we have faced over the past 5 years, they can also be seen as a direct call for stronger policies that address them effectively. 

For EU leaders, listening to the voices of those they represent is as important as ever for strengthening our democracies. Feeling that your concerns are not heard or being disconnected from the institutions, creates political dissatisfaction, frustration and disillusionment. This, combined with increasing ‘polarisation, populism and post-truth’ leads to more radical positions in our societies. Consequently, we find that far-right parties have grown in national governments in recent years, with Eurosceptic ideology now holding power in many member states.

This does not necessarily mean an intention to leave the EU, but an attempt to change the focus of EU policies. As European Parliament’s spokesman, Jaume Duch said:

The parties that were previously practically in favour of leaving the European Union are now making other types of proposals that no longer involve leaving, but rather adapting the European Union to the way they think it should be.”

This presents a challenge for the European Parliament, which managed in the last mandate to make some progress in addressing voters’ concerns with policies such as the Green Deal or the EU Directive on minimum wage. However, depending on the election results this June, the European Parliament may have to operate in a much more polarised scenario, making it difficult to reach common proposals.

Seeing the impact in recent months of disillusionment and polarisation in national governments, it has become increasingly clear that for the sake of protecting our shared European values citizens’ concerns must be heard. Recognising and standing up for voters’ number one concern of fighting poverty will be key, and we look to our political representatives to champion effective social policies that do not leave anyone behind.