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The European Union holds its election for parliament this weekend


The European Union holds its election for Parliament this weekend.


The EU is the world's second biggest democracy, home to 450 million citizens. This election is a once-every-five-year event, and it comes at a challenging time for Europe.

MARTIN: To tell us more about all this is NPR's Central Europe correspondent Rob Schmitz. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So voters will head to the polls in the EU starting today through Sunday, depending on the country. What's different for EU citizens now? What are the issues that they weren't thinking about in the last election in 2019?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, the biggest difference from five years ago is that there is now an ongoing war on European soil. Russia's military campaign in Ukraine has forced the EU to completely restructure how it gets its energy, and that's led to rising prices for food, gas, you name it. And it's meant that the biggest issue from the last election, climate change, has in some ways been shifted to the background to make way for more immediate concerns, like the overall survival of the economy in the face of not only a war in Ukraine but also in the aftermath of a global pandemic. It's been a tough five years for Europe.

MARTIN: What do you think this means politically for the EU?

SCHMITZ: As we've seen in national elections throughout Europe in the past few years, all of this chaos has resulted in a sort of hodgepodge of results. We've seen the rebound of far-right parties in countries like Italy, here in Germany and the Netherlands. But we've also witnessed the resurrection of centrist politics in countries like Poland, where a far-right populist party in power for years was defeated by a record turnout of voters who were fed up with its poor track record. What is clear amongst all of these varied political results is that big parties that have made up mainstream politics for decades in Europe are losing votes, making way for a bigger variety of parties. I spoke to Judy Dempsey about this. She's a nonresident fellow at Carnegie Europe, and here's what she thinks will happen in this election.

JUDY DEMPSEY: There are so many different political parties - whoever gets the largest, whoever gets the smallest - that will have a say. And in some ways, there's going to be paralysis for a couple of months. And this is bad news for Europe at a time when it's facing so many big domestic and global issues.

SCHMITZ: And, Michel, essentially, what she means here is that we're likely going to see EU Parliament seats divided more evenly amongst a bigger group of parties across the political spectrum. And that'll mean that Europe will have to wait as these parties negotiate how this power is going to be divided.

MARTIN: And what will this mean for Europe's relationship with the U.S. and the rest of the world, for that matter?

SCHMITZ: Well, yeah, the biggest impact could be on continuing support for Ukraine. We've seen that support sort of waiver in the U.S. And we could see more roadblocks here in Europe if, for example, the far right sees gains in its support. The other big issue will be climate change policy. As I mentioned before, this issue has slipped into the background a little, and a wave of intense farmer protests this past year has forced the EU to step back on implementing climate-related policies. We could see the EU move even further in that direction after this election.

Last but not least, the EU's very important relationship with the world's two biggest superpowers, the U.S. and China, might be moved aside for a while or even shift a little bit during this transition of power. And that could have an impact on what are extremely important political and economic relationships for the EU. It could also impact the EU's role in trying to help the U.S. maintain a rules-based system internationally that they both had a big role in farming.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us from Berlin. Rob, thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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