Home Society All politics is local: What the EU election is actually about in each country
All politics is local: What the EU election is actually about in each country

All politics is local: What the EU election is actually about in each country

by host
All politics is local: What the EU election is actually about in each country

All politics is local: What the EU election is actually about in each country

Voters will be thinking about domestic issues – and not Ursula von der Leyen – when they go to the polls.


Illustration via iStock

When EU voters head to the polls later this week, one thing is certain: Almost none of them will be thinking of Europe when they cast their ballot. 

A plethora of studies — and sky-high abstention rates — show that most of the bloc’s citizens neither understand nor care about the European Parliament vote. Because of this, they tend to vote based on domestic concerns instead of Brussels politics.

In countries like France, Germany and Spain, the election will serve as a de facto referendum on the party in power. In others, like Bulgaria and Malta, the vote is being driven more by attitudes regarding national politicians and not figures like European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who may be a big name in Brussels but is unlikely to be on the mind of the common voter. 


googletag.cmd.push( function() {
var sizeMappinginstory = googletag.sizeMapping().addSize([1024,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([768,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([0,0], [[300,250], [320,100], [1,1]]).build();
googletag.defineSlot( ‘52224093/Instory-1’, [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]], ‘div-gpt-ad-instory-1’ ).setTargeting(‘page_type’,[‘archive’]).setTargeting(‘tag’,[‘belgium’]).defineSizeMapping( sizeMappinginstory ).addService( googletag.pubads() );
googletag.display( “div-gpt-ad-instory-1” );
} );

Even in the Baltics, where the threat posed by Russia may have a big impact on the outcome of the vote, defense and security are understood through a local prism: Voters are driven by concerns over the invasion of their country and not the big picture geopolitics of the EU. 

Here’s POLITICO’s overview of the domestic issues that could be decisive in this European election.


Will Austrians’ patience with the People’s Party run out?

The ruling Austrian People’s Party is set to be top of mind for voters in Austria. The party has been plagued by corruption scandals in recent years and voters are exasperated by the government’s inability to get the inflation under control. Moreover, there’s lingering resentment over Vienna’s management of the pandemic and persistent concerns over immigration.

The same people who voted in droves for the center-right party in 2019 are now poised to back the far-right Freedom Party, a group founded by former SS officers in the 1950s. While the campaign is centered on domestic grievances, the party’s strategy is to blame everything on the EU and insist that Brussels is taking advantage of Austria. The irony is that being part of the single market has been a boon to the country’s economy, which has prospered from the open borders to Central and Eastern Europe now being cited as a threat to Austrians’ way of life.

Belgium on the ballot

Belgian voters won’t be thinking about Europe when they go to the polls on Sunday: They’ll be too preoccupied with the regional and federal elections that coincide with the EU vote. Domestic debates over how the nation works — and whether it should exist at all — are dominating discussions, and anger over the cost of living crisis is likely to favor extremist parties.

In the French-speaking region of Wallonia, the debate centers on the tax, social security and health systems, and the far-left Workers’ Party is leading in the polls by promising to disrupt the status quo. In Dutch-speaking Flanders, the question is whether Belgium should exist at all. The separatist, far-right Vlaams Belang party – which is projected to net the most votes — wants to dismantle the country. Its rival, the conservative New Flemish Alliance, is okay with a united Belgium … but only if the region’s powers are strengthened significantly.

Julien de Rosa/AFP via Getty Images

Sanctioned tycoon dominates debate in Bulgaria

One man has come to dominate the EU election in Bulgaria: tycoon and party leader Delyan Peevski, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. and the U.K. Much of the discussion has centered on his opponents’ accusations that he influences the courts and the security services. He is seen by many as being representative of the flaws of a democracy in which shadowy oligarchs, spies and criminal gangs have wrapped their tentacles around the country’s core institutions. Peevski styles himself as a defender of judges and the security services, and insists he is setting the country on a pro-EU and pro-NATO path.

Croatians prioritize economy

The post-Covid recovery and the state of the economy are top of mind in Croatia, where the ruling Croatian Democratic Union could be punished by voters who feel it has failed to reign in what is now one of the highest inflation rates in Europe.

Support for EU expansion — pushed by PM Andrej Plenković, who might get a top EU job in the horse trading that will follow the election — is strong at 68 percent, driven by security concerns along Croatia’s extensive EU border and a desire for stability in Southeast Europe. However, calls for greater transparency and democracy within EU institutions persist. 


googletag.cmd.push( function() {
var sizeMappinginstory = googletag.sizeMapping().addSize([1024,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([768,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([0,0], [[300,250], [320,100], [1,1]]).build();
googletag.defineSlot( ‘52224093/Instory-2’, [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]], ‘div-gpt-ad-instory-2’ ).setTargeting(‘page_type’,[‘archive’]).setTargeting(‘tag’,[‘belgium’]).defineSizeMapping( sizeMappinginstory ).addService( googletag.pubads() );
googletag.display( “div-gpt-ad-instory-2” );
} );

‘Demographic change’ is top concern for Cypriots

Immigration is top of mind for Cypriot voters — that is, those who bother to show up to vote. 

Disillusionment toward a political system that fails to effectively deal with the cost of living crisis, chronic corruption and inaction on the interminable border dispute is expected to lead to high levels of abstention, making this election a referendum on the mainstream parties that have long dominated the island’s political landscape: the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the Democratic Rally (DYSI). 

While they trade blows to secure a first-place showing, the populist National Popular Front (ELAM) is gaining ground with anti-migrant rhetoric. Stoking fears of “demographic change,” the far-right group is projected to come in third. 

Czechs focus on migrants and exhaust fumes

Debates in the lead-up to the election in the Czech Republic have been focused on a problem the country arguably doesn’t have: Mass immigration.

Although migration to the Czech Republic actually declined last year, far-right populist groups such as Freedom and Direct Democracy have succeeded in making the topic a major issue in this election, and all major parties now agree that the EU’s recently approved asylum and migration pact — which has not yet entered into force — needs to be reformed.

Domestic concerns over green standards, and in particular the EU’s Euro 7 rules for exhaust emissions, have also been a major topic in a country where the automotive industry is a big deal.

Denmark’s Frederiksen referendum

How do voters feel about Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s centrist government? Its handling of climate change, immigration and national defense are the topics dominating debates in the lead-up to the vote.

Frederiksen is under pressure to navigate a budgetary minefield over the months ahead: Her government allies want tax cuts, but her Social Democrat party wants more welfare spending. A weak showing this weekend could undermine her ability to negotiate.

The election is also a test for junior governing party Venstre, which wants to repeat the strong showing of 2019, but has since been weakened by the defection of former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and former Immigration Minister Inger Støjberg, who have both broken away to form rival parties.

Bubbling away in the back of voters’ minds: whether Frederiksen will emerge as a serious candidate for the European Council presidency and ultimately ditch Copenhagen for Brussels.

Budget cuts on Estonian minds

Estonia may be a frontline country but there’s virtually no talk about security or the threats posed by Russia.

Indeed, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ tough-on-the-Kremlin stance isn’t paying off. Her liberal Estonian Reform Party has lost support in recent months, in part as a result of its public sector budget cuts. Moreover, citizens see Kallas as someone looking for her next act — be it at NATO or as the EU’s next top diplomat — and not as a prime minister who is sufficiently concerned with domestic problems.

Former Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu’s conservative Fatherland Party has been leading the polls for the past six months by opposing green measures in Estonia and calling for greater oversight over the construction of a railway network connecting the Baltics to Poland.


googletag.cmd.push( function() {
var sizeMappinginstory = googletag.sizeMapping().addSize([1024,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([768,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([0,0], [[300,250], [320,100], [1,1]]).build();
googletag.defineSlot( ‘52224093/Instory-3’, [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]], ‘div-gpt-ad-instory-3’ ).setTargeting(‘page_type’,[‘archive’]).setTargeting(‘tag’,[‘belgium’]).defineSizeMapping( sizeMappinginstory ).addService( googletag.pubads() );
googletag.display( “div-gpt-ad-instory-3” );
} );

Geopolitics are domestic in Finland

The threat posed by Russia is a domestic concern in Finland. The security of the country’s long eastern border continues to dominate the political agenda in Helsinki ahead of the EU election, much as it did in the run-up to presidential elections in January.

Although disruptive strikes by labor unions have gotten the topics of pay and welfare provisions into the conversation, polls suggest voters will have Russia on their minds when they go to the polls and back the quiet but resolute approach of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition Party (NCP). It’s set to secure the most seats in the European Parliament, followed by the Social Democrats and the far-right Finns Party.

France weighs in on Macron’s lame duck status

French President Emmanuel Macron’s allies want this election to be all about Europe, but it looks increasingly like the far-right candidate Jordan Bardella is getting his way and making it all about Macron. 

It’s been a difficult campaign for Macron’s Renaissance top candidate Valerie Heyer, who has struggled to impose her personality amid a slew of bad news for the government such as missed deficit targets, and violent incidents in France and the overseas territory of New Caledonia.

The smooth-talking Bardella on the other hand has been making headlines as the fresh face of the French far-right National Rally, as Marine Le Pen tries to prove her party is ready to govern. 

The stakes are high for both camps: Le Pen wants momentum ahead of the 2027 presidential election, while Macron wants to be able to govern until then. 

Red light for Germany’s traffic-light coalition?

The election in Germany is shaping up to be a referendum on the ruling “traffic light” coalition composed of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party, the liberal Free Democratic Party and the Greens. The tenuous governing alliance’s popularity has been steadily plummeting and there’s growing exasperation with the tensions between the different political factions; those are growing worse as the country advances toward highly contentious national budget negotiations.

Ahead of the election, the top issue has been Germany’s role in the war in Ukraine — a topic that has highlighted the fractures within the coalition government. While the Social Democrats have coalesced around their prudent “peace chancellor,” the liberals are denouncing hesitant arms deliveries. 

Immigration and the country’s asylum policy are also evergreen issues that were slated to favor the far-right Alternative for Germany party. But a series of scandals surrounding its lead candidate, Maximilian Krah, may undermine its performance.

Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

All about the money in Greece

The cost-of-living crisis is top of mind for Greek voters, whose spending power is now the second lowest in the EU. That’s likely to undermine support for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party. The politician aspires to match the 33 percent share of the vote he secured in the last European election, somewhat lower than the 40.5 percent share he received when a national election was held last year.

While none of the opposition parties are positioned to challenge his party’s rule, there is growing support for far-right groups such as the Greek Solution party, which is on track to get twice as many votes as it did in last year’s election. In a bid to appear more patriotic than the ultranationalists, Mitsotakis has revived the country’s historic rift with North Macedonia and included Fredi Beleri, the jailed mayor-elect of the Albanian riviera town of Himarë, on his list. The ethnic Greek politician is considered a victim of political persecution in Athens and the prime minister aims to use his story to seduce nationalist voters.

Litmus test for Orbán’s challenger in Hungary

It looked like this might be Hungary’s most boring EU election campaign in years, with nothing standing in the way of incumbent PM Viktor Orbán — but the campaign has now become a critical test for whether a rising new opposition figure can challenge Budapest’s longtime leader.

Once a member of Orbán’s inner circle, Péter Magyar is now his top rival. Railing against corruption, poor health care and education, his Respect and Freedom Party has soared to record heights by galvanizing anti-government voters wary of traditional opposition parties. Where Magyar stands on the EU itself, though, remains murky.

Orbán’s Fidesz party is using every attack line it can muster against Magyar. Experts say that if he wins 20 percent or more of the vote, Magyar could position himself to be a credible threat to Orbán’s regime.


googletag.cmd.push( function() {
var sizeMappinginstory = googletag.sizeMapping().addSize([1024,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([768,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([0,0], [[300,250], [320,100], [1,1]]).build();
googletag.defineSlot( ‘52224093/Instory-4’, [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]], ‘div-gpt-ad-instory-4’ ).setTargeting(‘page_type’,[‘archive’]).setTargeting(‘tag’,[‘belgium’]).defineSizeMapping( sizeMappinginstory ).addService( googletag.pubads() );
googletag.display( “div-gpt-ad-instory-4” );
} );

Housing crisis hits home in Ireland

The European vote in Ireland, which is being held on the same day as local elections, is shaping up to be a barometer of public opinion ahead of next year’s national ballot.

With the country in the midst of a dramatic housing crisis, the vote is set to be a referendum on Taoiseach Simon Harris — who took office in April — and the country’s lack of affordable homes.

Migrants are increasingly seen as a factor in the housing crisis. Ireland took in more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in the wake of Russia’s invasion, and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s tough immigration policies have led to an increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving from Britain.

Mad man, Italian style

Calling Don Draper: Italy’s parties have used these elections to test out new PR approaches and slogans aimed at seducing wider swathes of the electorate.

For the Brothers of Italy party, the vote is being used to reinforce the personality cult around Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The politician has no intention of actually serving in the European Parliament, but she’s insisted on heading her party’s list of candidates and she’s encouraging people to “Vote Giorgia” and simply write her first name on the ballot. Believe it or not, Italian electoral law permits this course of action.

Matteo Salvini’s League, which has been consistently losing voters to Meloni’s party, is actually talking about Europe — sort of. Its campaign is a megamix of the hard right’s classic hits: Italy is now plastered with posters denouncing Brussels’ plot to make locals eat crickets, wear burkas, and turn everyone into an AI-generated, pregnant Jesus.

The late Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia just cannot let go of Il Cavaliere and still hopes his image will help them in the polls; meanwhile, the center-left Democratic Party appears to be betting on generic defeat with posters that don’t feature candidate’s names and trumpet uninspiringly vague themes.

Latvia reflects on its Russian minority

Russia isn’t a major topic in Latvia ahead of the EU vote — but the country’s Russian-speaking minority sure is. Ahead of the vote much of the discussion has centered on the efforts made to engage with this group, with many upset by a plan to live-translate debates in Russian.

The country’s eight parties are set to each get one of Latvia’s nine seats in the European Parliament, but it remains to be seen who will be able to send an additional MEP to Brussels. The right-wing National Alliance appears best-poised to do so: Citing the spending scandal that led to the resignation of Foreign Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in March, the group is pitching itself as a “clean” alternative to rotten mainstream parties — even though it has been part of all coalitions since 2011.

Even if the nationalists get the most votes, New Unity party stalwart Valdis Dombrovskis is expected to secure a seat in Brussels and head back to the Commission as soon as he gets his nomination.

Lithuanians debate working conditions

The election in Lithuania is shaping up to be a referendum on the governing Homeland Union — Lithuanian Christian Democrats. The center-left Social Democratic Party is expected to score nearly twice as many votes as its ruling center-right rivals, underscoring growing dissatisfaction with the country’s government.

Domestic concerns regarding the threat posed by Russia have dominated the debates in the lead-up to the vote, but left-wing parties also managed to steer the conversation toward working conditions within the Baltic country, and are using the campaign to call for a higher minimum wage and the establishment of a four-day work week. That’s a priority topic for current Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who is seeking to remain in Brussels as an MEP during the next term.

Will Luxembourg cease to be a tax haven?

The Grand Duchy’s status as one of Europe’s premier tax havens has been a major topic in the lead-up to the EU vote.

S&D Spitzenkandidat Nicolas Schmit’s Socialist Workers’ Party is calling for an end to member countries’ veto rights on taxation policy — a move that could threaten Luxembourg’s ability to attract large corporations seeking to save billions.

The proposal has ruffled feathers at home and recently led the country’s Chamber of Deputies to intervene in the campaign by passing a motion demanding the matter not be called into question by the national government “under any circumstances.”

A tale of three politicians in Malta

In Malta, the upcoming vote is about three people. The first is incumbent Labour Party Prime Minister Robert Abela, for whom the vote is a referendum on his government. But electors may also think of European Parliament President Roberta Metsola while casting their ballot, and signal their support for her by backing the opposition Nationalist Party.

In recent days, a third person has captured the popular imagination, which may even influence the results. All attention is now on former Labour Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who has been charged with a laundry list of offenses — from money laundering to fraud and conspiracy — in connection with a controversial deal to privatize three state-run hospitals. He denies wrongdoing but the timing could be a factor in the results. 

Fun fact: Ahead of the election, the Labour Party’s EU Parliament candidates filmed a Big Brother-style reality TV show called Il-Kamp Politiku (The Political Camp). The nine candidates spent a weekend together in a hotel suite, with the whole thing being filmed and shown on TV. It’s unknown how many viewers actually tuned in …


googletag.cmd.push( function() {
var sizeMappinginstream = googletag.sizeMapping().addSize([1024,200], [[970,250], [970,90], [728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([768,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([0,0], [[300,250], [320,100], [1,1]]).build();
googletag.defineSlot( ‘52224093/Instream-1’, [[970,250], [970,90], [728,90], [300,250], [1,1]], ‘div-gpt-ad-instream-1’ ).setTargeting(‘page_type’,[‘archive’]).setTargeting(‘tag’,[‘belgium’]).defineSizeMapping( sizeMappinginstream ).addService( googletag.pubads() );
googletag.display( “div-gpt-ad-instream-1” );
} );

Domestic politics dominate Dutch vote

Discussion ahead of the EU vote in the Netherlands is focused on who will govern in The Hague, not Brussels. 

Six months after the Dutch elections, an agreement for a new, right-wing coalition government has finally been struck and former intelligence chief Dick Schoof is tapped to serve as prime minister. But it’s unclear how the motley crew of populist parties that include Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) will work together, and centrist parties have used the few debates held in the lead-up to the vote to attack the coalition and challenge its “free beer” policies — for instance, its suggestion that it can convince fellow member countries to reduce the share of cash the Netherlands has to contribute to the EU’s budget.

Given Dutch voters’ general apathy toward the EU vote, the biggest question that lies ahead is whether turnout in these elections will finally be higher than those for the regional water councils

Exhausted Poles ditch polls

Having voted in high-stakes national and local elections in recent months, Poles are understandably ill-disposed to head to the polls again so soon. In a bid to mobilize them, political parties with empty campaign coffers have mainly focused on attacking one another, and splitting into clear pro-EU and Euroskeptic camps.

The main topics have been over national sovereignty and rule of law, two issues that have led to intense clashes between Warsaw and Brussels in recent years. Although there are big names are on the lists — among them current ministers, two former ministers who were expelled from the national parliament, and a former energy baron who’s been hiding from authorities for much of the campaign — polls suggest turnout will be low, with only die-hard supporters taking part in the vote.

Groundhog day in Portugal

The EU vote in Portugal has traditionally served as a referendum on the national government, but given that it’s taking place just two months after the new, center-right Democratic Alliance coalition took power, the results are likely to simply mirror those registered in March’s national election.

Indeed, the center-right is projected to narrowly beat out the Socialist Party, whose eight-year stint came to an end following Prime Minister António Costa’s resignation last year. The far-right Chega party is set to come in third place, securing up to four seats in the European Parliament.

Overshadowing the vote is the fate of Costa, who is seen as the top candidate to succeed Charles Michel as president of the European Council. The main obstacle to his selection is the ongoing investigation into his role in an influence-peddling scandal: Following an election in which the far-right is set to make inroads campaigning on corruption within mainstream parties, EU leaders may prefer to select a more pristine figure to lead their summits.  

Magali Cohen/AFP via Getty Images

Housing and corruption overshadow EU vote in Romania

Local elections are being held on the same day as the EU vote in Romania, which has led Brussels-related issues to fall to the wayside as voters focus on topics like the housing crisis and municipal corruption.

The country’s two biggest parties — the center-left Social Democratic Party and the center-right National Liberal Party — are currently ruling together in a grand coalition and running joint candidates for the bloc-wide election. The idea was to ensure stability amid Romania’s turbulent political climate, with Russia’s war raging near its border, and to fend off the rising far-right Alliance for the Union of Romanians party. 

But the plan looks set to backfire, with each party’s electorate reluctant to vote for the other, with the center-right Save Romania Union and Renewing Romania’s European Project parties set to make the biggest gains.

Assassination attempt overshadows election in Slovakia

The EU election in Slovakia has been overshadowed by a very domestic drama: the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Robert Fico last month. Since the incident, a campaign that was set to be all about migration and war in Ukraine has instead focused on the radicalization of the gunman who went after the populist politician. Polls show the strategy has paid off for the governing Direction-Social Democracy (SMER) party, whose results are expected to be bolstered by a sympathy vote.

Slovenians to cast four votes in one day

When the European Parliament election was last held, Slovenia had the dubious distinction of being the EU member with the third-lowest turnout. The ruling Freedom Party is aiming to improve those figures this time around by scheduling a triple referendum on assisted dying, cannabis use, and preferential voting in general elections at the same time as the EU vote. 

While all three of the referendum topics are expected to mobilize voters who back the government, others may turn out to use the election as a de facto referendum on the Freedom Party and its coalition parties. The government has been pushing for the recognition of Palestine, so voters might use the occasion to embrace or reject that option. 

Spain’s Sánchez election

The EU election in Spain is shaping up to be a referendum on socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. The vote is taking place just a week after the Spanish parliament approved his government’s controversial amnesty of Catalan separatists; the move is expected to win Sánchez’s party votes in Catalonia, but may undercut its performance in the rest of the country.

More broadly, electors may have Sánchez’s management of a major diplomatic crisis on their minds when they go to the polls. For the past several weeks the Spanish prime minister and his Argentinian counterpart, Javier Milei, have been trading barbs in a tense faceoff that Sánchez is trying to use to galvanize leftist voters, but which may also mobilize far-right supporters.

If the center-right People’s Party outperforms the Socialists, it will be read as a rebuke of Sánchez’s administration.

Swedes vote on wall-building

A European Commissioner is improbably a major figure in the EU election in Sweden. With the issue of immigration dominating the campaign, parties are jostling to cast themselves as the ones capable of making Brussels tighten Europe’s borders. In that context, the center-left Social Democratic Party is highlighting the role played by one of its members, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, in designing the EU’s new, more restrictive border policies. 

But, unsurprisingly, the far-right Sweden Democrats have pressed the immigration issue hardest with a slogan calling on Europe to “build walls.”

The election could determine the fate of the small, EU-friendly Liberal Party: If it loses its one seat in the European Parliament — which polls suggest it might — then observers suggest party leadership might question whether to continue as part of the current government.

Reporting by Aitor Hernández-Morales, Koen Verhelst, Charlie Duxbury, Nektaria Stamouli, Šejla Ahmatović, Ketrin Jochecová, Victor Jack, Matthew Karnitschnig, Camille Gijs, Antoaneta Roussi, Stuart Lau, Clea Caulcutt, Victor Goury-Laffont, Peter Wilke, Suzanne Lynch, Giulia Poloni, Giedre Peseckyte, Bartosz Brzeziński and Paul Dallison.


googletag.cmd.push( function() {
var sizeMappinginstream = googletag.sizeMapping().addSize([1024,200], [[970,250], [970,90], [728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([768,200], [[728,90], [300,250], [1,1]]).addSize([0,0], [[300,250], [320,100], [1,1]]).build();
googletag.defineSlot( ‘52224093/Instream-2’, [[970,250], [970,90], [728,90], [300,250], [1,1]], ‘div-gpt-ad-instream-2’ ).setTargeting(‘page_type’,[‘archive’]).setTargeting(‘tag’,[‘belgium’]).defineSizeMapping( sizeMappinginstream ).addService( googletag.pubads() );
googletag.display( “div-gpt-ad-instream-2” );
} );

Source link