European Parliament recruits footballers in bid to boost voter turnout

European Parliament on Tuesday announced a collaborative agreement with The International Organization for Professional Footballers (FIFPro) to promote participation in the upcoming EU elections in May.

The parliament said in a statement that its collaboration with FIFPro — more specifically the footballers’ association’s European branch — “will form an essential part of the Parliament’s on-the-ground campaign to engage citizens.”

“Players are both citizens and professional athletes, but most of all they are role models. The 2019 European elections are the perfect occasion for football players to take the field and motivate Europeans to set the path for the European Union they want to live in,” Parliament President Antonio Tajani said.

FIFPro is made up of 62 players’ associations across the globe, 31 of which are in Europe, and represents 65,000 male and female footballers around the world. The organization has been affiliated with FIFA, world football’s governing body, since 2009.

The European Parliament said it would work with FIFPro Europe “to create momentum in the lead-up to the elections and motivate as many European citizens as possible to vote in the 2019 European elections.”

Nilla Fischer, a member of the Swedish women’s national team who plays for Wolfsburg at the club level, was announced as the first ambassador of the campaign. 

  • Manfred Weber

    European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

    Manfred Weber (EPP)

    The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) – the largest faction in the European Parliament – has picked Manfred Weber, its German parliamentary party leader. He has the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel. He beat his main rival, Finland’s Alexander Stubb. Weber is little known on the international stage, and his language skills are considered poor.

  •  Frans Timmermans

    European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

    Frans Timmermans (SD)

    Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president, will lead the campaign for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists Democrats (SD). Weber’s main rival promises to bring the bloc closer to ordinary voters at a time when Britain’s looming exit is one factor behind the nationalist movements across the EU.

  • Jan Zahradil (imago/Belga)

    European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

    Jan Zahradil (ECR)

    The third-largest group in the EU Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), has just one candidate: Jan Zahradil, chairman of the Czech ECR delegation. The 65-year-old is set to be officially nominated later this month after a party vote. Zahradil was affectionately known as “Forrest Gump” for a short while after cycling from Prague to Strasbourg for a parliamentary session.

  • Ska Keller (European Green Party)

    European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

    Ska Keller (Greens/EFA)

    German MEP Ska Keller is one of several contenders to be one of two lead candidates for the European Greens/European Free Alliance. Keller co-chairs the Greens in the European Parliament and has railed against what she described as “serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi government.” The Greens recently made large gains in German regional elections.

  • Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout (picture-alliance/dpa/W. von Dewitz)

    European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

    Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA)

    Bas Eickhout is the second contender to lead the Greens/EFA in the May election. The 42-year-old Dutch MEP has championed a move to cap palm oil use by 2023, then reduce it to zero by 2030.

  • Petra De Sutter belgische Politikerin (picture-alliance/Zumapress/F. Sadones)

    European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

    Petra De Sutter (Greens/EFA)

    Belgian politician Petra De Sutter is also in the running to be one of two contenders for the European Green Party/EFA in 2019. The 55-year-old is one of the bloc’s few openly transgender politicians. Bulgaria’s Atanas Schmidt is also still in the running.

    Author: Keith Walker

Turnout issues

Tuesday’s announcement comes exactly 100 days before the European Parliament elections in the EU’s 27 member states (it’s not inconceivable that the UK also has to put up candidates, in the event of a delay to Brexit), set to be held from May 23-26.

The EU has seen declining voter turnout in every parliamentary election since 1979. Turnout in 2014, the most recent election, was a disappointing 42.61 percent.

Low turnout has been a key driver of fringe, populist, euroskeptic parties at the European Parliament. This is because the euroskeptic voter base among the easiest to motivate for European elections. Nowhere was this more apparent than the UK five years ago, when UKIP — a party that’s only ever had two MPs in the House of Commons in its history — won more MEP seats, 24, than any other British party.

Read more: EU Commission warns of ‘fake news,’ meddling in 2019 European elections

The European Parliament and FIFPro said the main participating players’ associations in their collaborative campaign reside in 10 countries: Italy, Spain, Croatia, Austria, Slovenia, Cyprus, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, and the Czech Republic. Of those nations, only Italy and Sweden had a voter turnout above 50 percent at the 2014 EU election.

Additionally, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) published a study on Tuesday which warned that anti-European parties could win a third of seats in the upcoming vote. Such a result, according to the ECFR, would “frustrate activity, undermine the security and defense of Europe, and ultimately sow discord that could destroy the EU over time.”

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