On Wednesday, May 23, European Parliament (EP) President Antonio Tajani marked the start of the 365-day countdown to the next European elections by holding a news conference, confirming the elections will take place from May 23 to 26, 2019. In Malta, the elections will take place on Saturday, 25th May.

During the news conference, the results of the latest Eurobarometer were released. The survey, entitled ‘Democracy on the Move, European Elections: One Year to Go’, was carried out in April and 27,601 individuals from all 28 EU countries were interviewed. The survey, which takes a close look at people’s views on EU membership as well as attitudes towards the European Parliament and its priorities, indicates that citizens’ support for the European Union (EU) has reached a 35-year high.

Apart from the constant support for the EU shown by citizens, the survey found that an average 67% of Europeans are convinced that their country benefits from being a member of the EU – the highest score measured since 1983. Furthermore, for the first time ever, a majority of respondents said that they believe their voice counts in the EU. As for the European elections, almost a third of respondents (32%) said that they know the date of the European elections in 2019, while 50% said that they were interested in the elections.

One year ahead of the European ballot, respondents were asked whether the Spitzenkandidaten system is viewed as a positive development (49% say it would encourage them to go to vote in the next European elections) - but 70% of respondents expressed the view that it should go together with a real debate on European issues and on the future of the EU.

The Spitzenkandidaten system was utilised for the first time in the 2014 elections following the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon which provides that a candidate for President of the Commission would be proposed by the European Council ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament’. The candidate would then be elected by the EP by a majority of its component members. In 2014, the main political groups in the EP agreed that the candidate of the group that obtained the largest number of votes would be nominated as the new President of the Commission. However, it is not clear whether this time round, the member states will accept to be bound by such an arrangement.

Malta’s case

The majority of respondents in Malta (61%) said that they are totally interested in European affairs, some seven points more than the average European is. The country that scored best is The Netherlands. 61% of Maltese respondents said they are totally interested in the next EP elections while 66% consider it highly important to vote in the 2019 elections.

When asked whether citizens have a positive or negative image of the EP, 46% of respondents in Malta said they have a totally positive image, once again much more than the average European. Forty-six per cent of respondents in Malta said that they will very likely vote in the elections while 17% said they are likely to vote.

Asked which themes should be discussed as a matter of priority during the electoral campaign for the next European elections, the majority of citizens in Malta said that the issue of migration should be given priority – nothing surprising considering that migration topped the list of major concerns of citizens in Malta in many past surveys. Europeans want to hear about security issues in the broadest sense, including migration.

The majority of respondents said that going to vote was very easy for them, stating it is their duty as citizens to do so. Forty-seven per cent of respondents in Malta said that the reason behind those not voting in the elections is primarily due to the fact that they distrust the political system.

Benefits of EU membership for Malta

The majority of respondents (74%) said that they believe Malta’s EU membership is a good thing – an increase of 10% when compared to the last survey on the same subject. A staggering 93% of respondents said that Malta has benefited from EU membership.

Most respondents across the EU continue to be satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. While respondents from some countries are more satisfied with the workings of democracy in the EU than in their own country, citizens from some larger Member States are showing a significantly lower degree of satisfaction with the way democracy works in the EU. This becomes even clearer when the level of satisfaction with the way democracy works is put in perspective with the countries’ GDP per capita as well as their current unemployment rates. The majority in Malta (63%) are satisfied with how democracy is working in Malta, a 2% increase over the previous survey and well above the 55% average for the EU28.

The survey also looked at citizens’ opinions on new and emerging political parties. Between 2013 and 2018, more than 70 new parties and political alliances emerged in EU Member States, some of which campaigned successfully by protesting against the political establishment.

When asked to position themselves on a range of statements about such new parties and movements, the majority of Europeans perceived them rather positively. In Malta, such parties or movements are not considered a threat to democracy at all. Finally, just under half of respondents in Malta (49%) feel that their voice counts in the EU while the majority said that their voice counts in Malta while respondents in Malta feel that things are going in the right direction, both in Malta and in the EU. One of the issues respondents across the EU pressed on is that the election campaign debate should include a debate on the future of the EU. On a national level, MEUSAC has been organising a number of events to instigate the debate on the EU’s future, with more events expected later this year, including a series of citizens’ consultations across Malta and Gozo.

Duncan Barry, Media and Information officer at MEUSAC

Article featured in The Malta Business Weekly on 7 June 2018