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Should I stay or should I go? : European Elections

The last month has seen more twists and turns to the Brexit saga, as the deadline of the 29th of March sailed by with an extension, followed by yet another extension. The British Parliament has reached a deadlock and can’t find a majority for any proposal to leave or stay in the EU. Conversely, the EU refuses to renegotiate the agreement that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, spent two years negotiating in Brussels.

One of the likely outcomes that many were trying to avoid is that the UK will most probably participate in the EU’s Parliamentary elections in May. The UK currently has a double deadline. The extension has been granted until the 31st October, Halloween (perhaps a fitting date), but the UK must hold European Parliamentary elections by the 1st June, or be kicked out of the EU without a deal. Theresa May has shown, by extending the two previous deadlines, that she is not prepared for a no deal, and will likely keep extending until a majority can be formed to agree to her proposal.

The Prime Minister has tried to resist calls for holding European elections, and the concession that she will has been very embarrassing for her. The elections are a symbol for many who voted to leave the EU of Britain’s continued membership. Yet the anger towards the government’s slow progress towards the exit may be directed at the European elections. This has been a concern for some European leaders, especially French President Emmanuel Macron, who sees Brexit, and Britain as infectious.

Having battled low ratings in his own country, and the revolt of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’, Macron does not want the European parliament to become an institution of eurosceptic populism in the heart of Brussels. There has been a concerted effort among many European populist parties to mobilise their supporters to vote for eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament. They intend to send a defiant message to the European elites and have received support from alt-right activists such as American Steve Bannon.

Coupled with the low voter turnout at European elections, a eurosceptic European Parliament could effectively freeze much of the European Union’s work. Despite attacks on the EU for not being democratic, European elections are often direct, more direct than many national elections that have inbuilt electoral systems that often mitigate the representation of populists. In Britain, the first past the post electoral system stopped the Eurosceptic party UKIP gaining potentially over sixty seats, and instead only won one. Parties that are particularly motivated to vote will do well in the European elections.

Macron’s fears might be short lived though, as British MEP’s would have to stand down once the UK leaves the EU, meaning that populist British MEP’s will only have the summer to impede the European legislative process. However, its unknown whether Britain will be ready to accept the European agreement by the end of October, at least not without another General election, one which the Prime Minister is not likely to win more support for her plan.

The continued membership of a Brexiting Britain could be a nightmare for many pro Europeans, as the UK becomes a pariah member, stalling and vetoing legislation. The message that You&EU would like to impart to you is that if you are British, be prepared to vote! And of course if you live elsewhere in the EU, definitely vote! The EU has an impact in all of our lives, and the European elections are the best time to have a say in how. Don’t let them be dominated by Nigel Farage and Victor Orban!

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