The Europeanness of the 2019 European Parliament elections and the mobilising power of European issues

Date01 November 2021
Publication Date01 November 2021
DOI10.1177/0263395721992930
AuthorDaniela Braun
SubjectSpecial Issue Articles
https://doi.org/10.1177/0263395721992930
Politics
2021, Vol. 41(4) 451 –466
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/0263395721992930
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The Europeanness of the 2019
European Parliament elections
and the mobilising power of
European issues
Daniela Braun
LMU München, Germany
Abstract
Less researched than the second-order character of elections to the European Parliament (EP)
is the ‘Europeanness’ of European elections and its implications for voter participation in these
elections. This article aims to fill this gap by studying the Europeanness of the public debate in the
run-up to the 2019 EP elections and the mobilising power of European issues in these electoral
contests. In doing this, we draw on a new data set covering intriguing aspects of the 2019 EP
elections. The findings of the empirical analysis of media and survey data indicate that the elections
to the EP were more European contests than ever before in the history of these elections –
yet this is not true in the same way for all of the countries under consideration. Moreover,
the Europeanness of electorates, measured as genuine orientations towards EU politics, matters
for electoral participation and thus has the power to mobilise citizens. Nonetheless, national
factors still play an important role in these elections. These findings are insightful for the future
assessment of EP elections and the scholarly debate over multi-level electoral politics in Europe.
Keywords
elections, European Parliament, political attitudes, political participation
Received: 27th May 2020; Revised version received: 10th December 2020; Accepted: 12th January 2021
Introduction
The second-order character (Reif and Schmitt, 1980) of elections to the European
Parliament (EP) is uncontested throughout the scholarly literature. Numerous studies are
unambiguously able to confirm this for every single EP election as well as for the aggre-
gate and the individual level (for an overview see Schmitt et al., 2020). The 2019 EP
election is not expected to make a difference in this regard. Consequently, EP elections
have been, are at present and possibly always will be viewed as less important than
national elections. In contrast to this assessment, the EP has become more powerful with
the Maastricht Treaty and subsequent treaty changes (Brack and Costa, 2018), and with
the introduction of the Spitzenkandidaten (‘lead candidate’) system in 2014, elections to
Corresponding author:
Daniela Braun, Geschwister Scholl Institute of Political Science, LMU München, 80539 Munchen, Germany.
Email: daniela.braun@gsi.uni-muenchen.de
992930POL0010.1177/0263395721992930PoliticsBraun
research-article2021
Special Issue Article
452 Politics 41(4)
the EP were supposed to become more consequential (Hobolt, 2014; Schmitt et al., 2015).
Moreover, recent empirical studies provide evidence that EP elections matter in them-
selves by having considerable impact on domestic politics. EP elections, for example,
facilitate the success of smaller and more radical parties at the national level by inculcat-
ing voting habits (Dinas and Riera, 2018) or by simply increasing the public visibility of
these parties (Schulte-Cloos, 2018). In addition, they have a long-lasting socialisation
effect on the European citizenry (Schulte-Cloos, 2019).
In a nutshell, the European Union (EU) has transformed in the course of the past two
decades, and with it the EP elections. Accordingly, one can straightforwardly advocate
the study of EP elections for its own sake. One important question to investigate is the
‘Europeanness’ of these contests at the European level of governance. In particular, in
light of the recent literature evidencing an increasing politicisation of Europe (Hutter
et al., 2016; Hutter and Grande, 2014; Kriesi, 2016), the aim of this article is to study
precisely this growing relevance of Europe and European issues – we modestly call this
phenomenon ‘Europeanness’ – for the case of the only elections at the European level of
governance: the EP elections. Such an enquiry is even more interesting in view of the fact
that the 2019 EP electoral contests were widely framed as ‘a battle over Europe’s future’
(Treib, 2020: 1). Against this backdrop, we presume that these elections were even more
about European issues since, after all, Europe’s future was at stake, and the electorate is
supposed to be mobilised by European issues likewise. Altogether, we should proceed on
the assumption that the 2019 EP elections were characterised by a certain level of
Europeanness. The latter is conceptualised in this article via a dual perspective consider-
ing the public debate and the electorate.
The ultimate aim of this article is thus to investigate the Europeanness of the 2019 EP
elections from the perspective of the demand and supply side of political competition. In
doing this, we draw on a new data set covering intriguing aspects of the 2019 EP elec-
tions. These data enable us to study both aspects – the election campaigns and the mobi-
lisation potential of Europeanness – in closer detail. The data set on European election
campaigns (EEC) maps European issues in relation to other topics to study the
Europeanness of the public debate in the run-up to the 2019 EP elections. The related
EEC online survey of voters enables us to study in appropriate detail the Europeanness of
the electorate via their attitudes towards European integration in the 2019 EP elections.
One of the key advantages of this study is certainly the dual conceptualisation of
Europeanness via the public debate over European issues as well as voters’ mobilisation
through European issues. This innovation entailed a strong effort in terms of data collec-
tion and therefore comes with the restriction of a limited country selection of five north-
west European countries. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the selected countries
(Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) are (a) representative for
this macro-region and (b) insightful from a comparative point of view.
The remainder of this article is structured as follows. In the subsequent section, we discuss
the different strands of literature that will give us additional hints surrounding the idea of the
role of European issues in EP elections as well as a sense of Europeanness felt by some of the
continent’s electorates. Next, we explicate the research design and the data that enable us to
test three theoretical hypotheses derived from this literature. This will be followed by the
empirical analyses and the article’s conclusions. In sum, our findings indicate that the elec-
tions to the EP were more European contests than ever before in the history of these elections
– yet this is not true in the same way for all of the countries under consideration. Moreover, the
Europeanness of electorates matters for electoral participation. Altogether, the article

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