“Vote, because then you have a say in the future of Europe and its values”

EU, Europa

Europe goes to the polls, but what exactly is at stake? For many people, European politics feels distant and irrelevant, but is that really the case? No, say lecturer Rob Boudewijn and student Karolína Tauberová from NHL Stenden.

While political attention in the Netherlands has recently - and will continue to be - focused primarily on the formation of a new cabinet, the European Parliamentary elections are now 'suddenly' coming up. On Thursday, the Netherlands will elect their 31 of the total 720 Members of the European Parliament for the next five years. However, unlike national parliamentary elections, the European elections garner much less interest in the country, says lecturer Rob Boudewijn of the Thorbecke Academy at NHL Stenden.

In Boudewijn’s classroom, things are different. He teaches the European Studies programme, where the level of interest is much higher than the voter turnout in the previous European elections. In 2019, just over 40 percent of eligible Dutch voters went to the polls. By comparison, voter turnout for national parliamentary elections is often around 80 percent.

“For many people, it feels distant,” says Boudewijn. “There is a lot of ignorance about European politics and the elections, but that’s nothing new.”

Role for national politics

According to Boudewijn, there are several reasons why European politics is less engaging. He sees an important role for national politics in this. “Parties and politicians sometimes act as if we in the Netherlands can decide everything on our own, but that’s not the case. We are members of the European Union and have to deal with shared legislation and regulations. Even if you wanted to, you can't just bypass that.”

An example: “In the run-up to the previous national parliamentary elections, you read little to nothing about international cooperation in party manifestos. The central theme during the elections was existential security, while that topic is heavily influenced by the EU with energy, climate, and migration policies. National and European politics cannot be separated: about 70 percent of our laws and regulations come from Brussels.”

Brexit referendum

Boudewijn can understand that Brussels feels distant, but he emphasizes that this is not the case. “The Brexit referendum demonstrated this well. In hindsight, young people in Britain complained that the older generation had taken away their European future. Most young people wanted to remain EU members, but not all of them voted: that didn’t work out well for them.”

One person who will certainly vote is Karolína Tauberová. But for that, the second-year European Studies student will return to her home country. “Slovakian citizens are not allowed to vote for Slovakian candidates from abroad. Not even by proxy.” Voting for a Dutch candidate is possible and she considered it, but she still wants to cast her vote in her own country.

Awareness and knowledge of the EU

The political landscape in Slovakia is changing, says Karolína. “There is increasing polarization and democratic values are under pressure. I feel the need to speak out against this. Furthermore, I hope that voter turnout in Slovakia will finally improve. In 2019, it was less than 25 percent. So I feel I should do my part.”

For Karolína, the low turnout in previous European elections cannot be separated from the feeling many compatriots have towards the EU: distant. “I think it’s due to a lack of awareness and knowledge of the EU. People do not always understand its usefulness and function. It would help if more attention were paid to it in education. Then it becomes more familiar and is discussed more, because European cooperation is important. You should definitely vote, because then you have a say in the future and values of Europe.”

European Studies

European Studies

In this internationally oriented programme offered by the Thorbecke Academy at NHL Stenden, you get to explore current affairs across a broad spectrum, from the European Union to European policy and from diplomatic relations to international business.  

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