As member states prepare for May’s European Parliament elections, the latest Parlemeter survey shows a growing appreciation of the EU by Europeans and an improved awareness on the forthcoming European Parliament elections.
In Malta, where elections will be held on Saturday, May 25, the voting age has been lowered to 16 years for the first time. During a series of interviews, Times of Malta found that the majority of students intend to vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections, although some believe they are not informed enough to do so. Moreover, the majority of students interviewed said people should exercise their right to vote, while others identified certain conditions that should be met before youths can cast a well-informed vote.
One of the pertinent issues that students feel Europeans are currently faced with is migration. Some interviewees said the distribution of migrants across the EU countries should be addressed by the MEPs elected in the upcoming elections, while others added there should be more tolerance to diversity within Europe.
For one Junior College student, the fact that Brexit is looming without the UK having finalised its terms of exit from the European Union was a worrisome subject. Another important issue cited by several students was the global environmental threat of climate change.
“I feel like we’re not doing enough to help the environment,” said one student, adding that this is one of the most important things that MEPs should be aiming to tackle. Students also said that over-construction and the lack of walking and cycling passages could be changed by the elected MEPs.
Other students at the University of Malta said that gender equality is an area they think MEPs should be addressing. This includes pushing for women’s rights, equal pay and encouraging more women to enter into politics.
When asked what values the MEPs – who will be acting as their voice for the coming five years – should possess, replies varied. One respondent said: “They should be willing to listen to different opinions, not only from other politicians, but also from working professionals, such as scientists in the case of climate change.”
Another student added he would like to see Malta’s representatives at the European Parliament putting Malta first. Compassion, level-headedness and a positive way of thinking and approaching discussions with other countries were also given importance.
The act of voting is regarded not just as a right, but as a duty by many students. Voting is an integral part of the democratic process and students feel that members of society should be engaging in this act in a conscious and informed manner.
“If they have a right, they should go and vote because we have to decide what we want for our future,” said one of the students. Others also highlighted the importance of voicing your opinion and taking responsibility for the future of Europe through this democratic act.
‘The EU is about balance’
Mark Harwood, director of the Institute for European Studies, University of Malta
Malta enters the 2019 European Elections as an anomaly of sorts. We are a small State on the periphery of Europe, far from Brussels with limited potential to ensure our voice is heard in a union of 500 million people and yet we are one of the most informed and fully engaged countries in the EU. In previous European Parliament elections we registered the highest turnout of any country where voting is not obligatory and there is little to suspect that we will not repeat this high turnout on May 25.
From the interviews undertaken with students, it’s encouraging to see young people engaging with the elections and articulating their concerns. Many of the issues they highlight, including migration and the environment have been perennial concerns of the Maltese as expressed in Eurobarometer surveys throughout the years. In terms of Brexit and the gender gap, these are issues which appear to be a growing concern, both locally and abroad.
However, while many people look to the EU to solve national problems, the EU does not always have the right to involve itself in certain matters, like taxation, social policy or culture. In these and other areas, the member states wish to maintain their control and exclude the EU from significant involvement. This has been seen clearly in the area of irregular migration where the EU has limited competence and where the member states differ on how to tackle irregular migration flows.
This has not stopped the EU from trying to help share the burden of irregular migration on entry-point countries but the scheme is voluntary and based on solidarity among the member states with some countries refusing to participate.
The same can be said for the environment. The EU is a global leader in combatting climate change but its environmental policy does not stretch to issues like over-construction or cycling paths. These issues belong to the national government and it is national politicians who must address the issue. This does not stop the EU from encouraging the use of more environmentally friendly modes of transport, such as cycling, through the financing of projects such as the EuroVelo 8 which creates a cycle route across the northern Mediterranean, but the EU cannot dictate to Malta the need for more infrastructure for cyclists.
In terms of gender-based inequality, the EU has fought discrimination for decades and has sought to promote gender equality, even within its own institutions, trying to ensure gender balance within the College of Commissioners as well as with long-term plans for strategic engagement for gender equality in the Union. However, the European Commission is often restricted in what it can do in this area to raising awareness, encouraging reforms and facilitating learning among the member states.
Ultimately the EU is about balance, doing things at the appropriate level. If an issue is tackled best at the national level, it should be dealt with by the individual member states and much of the reforms needed in Malta on gender equality will have to come from our politicians and not the EU, but the EU can point the way.
Therefore, as we move towards the elections it is heartening to see high levels of engagement among our voters and the hope will be that the more engaged voters encourage all those around them to vote on May 25.
A service brought to you by the European Parliament Office in Malta.
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