The lives of hundreds of millions of Europeans will be affected by EU elections in June. Even if the European Parliament feels distant for most people, its decisions have far-reaching effects on day-to-day environmental and energy issues, such as how strict energy efficiency requirements will be.
EU parliamentary elections will be held between 6 and 9 June this year, when citizens of the bloc’s 27 member states will elect the 705 MEPs who will represent them. Parliament’s role as one of the EU’s two legislative bodies means that it has a major influence on basically everyone who lives and resides in the EU, from continental to local level. According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), approximately half of all agenda items in Swedish municipal and regional councils are either directly or indirectly affected by EU laws and decisions. This applies to all areas of activity – and is likely to be similar in many other parts of the EU.
Much of what the EU Parliament decides on is implemented at macro level, such as the common electricity market that has guaranteed security of supply even in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including in countries where there were fears of major power outages. Decisions the EU Parliament takes in other areas reach even further and faster.
Impacts daily lives
Camille Defard, Head of the independent European energy and climate think tank Jacques Delors Energy Centre in Paris, believes that it is often easy to follow impacts of the EU all the way to people’s daily lives. And this has become increasingly pronounced in recent years.
“One example of how EU policy works through to local level are the reconstruction programmes that were implemented after the pandemic,” says Defard. “The decision was taken at EU level and focused on renovating and repairing buildings, but details were hammered out at regional level.”
Defard says that this is often what EU politics looks like in practice. Although some member states are considerably further ahead on certain issues than others, the EU is often significantly more forward-looking and progressive than individual nations and thus tries to move progress forward. This applies especially when it comes to the environment and energy – issues that are set to remain hot topics in the run-up to, during, and of course after elections for the EU Parliament.
“These issues will be crucial, particularly because they are often politicised by populist parties when it comes to infrastructure and social mobility. It is crucial that politics in general addresses populism with sound arguments. Populists rarely have any solutions to problems, they only oppose other people’s solutions.”
Much of the debate before and after the election will revolve around the EU’s Green Deal and how it will be applied at local level in areas such as industry, infrastructure, mobility, and energy use, for example. An issue like the renovation of existing building stock to increase energy efficiency has already become controversial.
Defard believes that the fact that these particular issues will become so important is due to their impact at local level, even on an individual level. The energy crisis and high electricity prices that followed have resulted in high living costs. This will have repercussions.
“High costs for things like accommodation, electricity and food will continue to be a major challenge for politics – and I’m concerned that problems with the cost of living will backfire on the liberal movement. Many member state governments will be forced to introduce restrictions and requirements. In such a situation, it’s not unusual for many people to prefer the status quo to changes that may be necessary.”
The local level impacts Europe
According to Defard, things are heading in the wrong direction. The everyday pressure individuals feel at the local level can influence the outcome of elections and in turn influence the broader political direction. The EU has long been a leader in clean tech and green manufacturing, but risks being overtaken by the US and China, which are now on their way to taking over the electric car market, for example.
“It’s a critical time. Shifting from a period of stability to something new and uncertain will require extensive co-operation between the public and private sectors. Another important issue is that of resources. Today, many European organisations and authorities are understaffed, which means, for example, that important permit processes drag on. If these problems are not addressed, the energy transition will fail.”
According to Defard this is what makes the election such an important one. When the citizens of the EU member states step into the polling stations in the beginning of June their decisions will not only affect the five years until the next election, but far longer than that.
More information on the EU election can be found here → European elections 2024: all you need to know (europa.eu)