Tag Archives: Eu

The EU elections

Sorry, for once a post that requires a specific interest – and some prior knowledge – in EU politics. No worries, next week I’ll talk about happiness again.

EU elections! After weeks of tensions built up, it’s over. The electorate has voted across the 28 EU countries. We don’t really know what they have said, but at least we’ll spin it in our favour.

There is a lot you can read in the result, but I would argue that the outcome – a low turnout of 43.09% and the rise of Eurosceptic and extreme right/left parties – suggest voters are not fully content with their leaders. I’ll avoid the discussion about happiness and politics today and just share five stories about the EU elections.

  • At 43.09%, the turnout is low, though marginally higher than in 2009 (43.00%). Absurdly enough, this was a reason for some EP voices to boldly claim the decline in turnout has been reversed. It is very worrisome to sustain democracy in a country like Slovakia, only 13% went to the polls. Seven out of eight simply didn’t care enough to make their voice heard! 


  • Let’s visualize it to better understand what the impact is that this 56.91% which is not represented in the EP.  Imagine 56.91% of the seats in the EP would not be assigned to anyone. In that case, more than half of the EP – 427 seats – would be empty. The political groups together would only fill 324 seats, the EPP with 92 being the largest. 


  • Another important narrative of the elections is the rise of the populists and extreme right. To me, this is too simplistic. In many countries, far right parties are doing well. Sadly, there are even enough for the Huffington post to make a list with “9 Scariest Far-Right Parties now in the European Parliament“. But not all of them are winning: Wilders’ PVV lost one seat in the Netherlands, and Jobbik in Hungary is staying at three seats. And euroskeptics come in many different flavours: UKIP (UK), AfD (Germany) and M5S (Italy) are incomparable in their opposition to the EU.


  • Altogether, the most interesting story to me is the fragementation of the EP. The slim lead of the EPP against the S&D could reinforce a strong competition. But will want to put their mark on the EP’s position. All the smaller parties will also want to be visible. This fact, and the ample presence of eurosceptics may result in some polarisation and could end the impression that all MEPs agree that whatever the problem, more Europe is the solution.


  • On the web, these are the elections of ‘Dear Europe, we are sorry‘. French people everywhere on Twitter share this to ‘apologise’ for the fact that Marine Le Pen’s Front National went from 3 to 24 seats in France. I can understand their frustration, but I don’t see the point in apologising for decisions taken by others. You don’t need to carry the weight of a quarter of the country on your shoulders. Rather than taking an apologetic stance, do something to fight bigotry and discrimination. Become member of a party. Do volunteer work to help people who are worse off. Fight for your ideals! But feeling ashamed about other people’s choices – that will never change anything.
Picture 4

Screenshot of www.deareuropewearesorry.eu

A EU Happiness Manifesto

Act React Impact for EU Happiness!Only ten days to go until the European elections start!

From 22 to 25 May, around four hundred million voters from Lisbon to Tallinn and from Dublin to Nicosia can vote for the European Parliament. In a year still tainted by the economic crisis, employment and growth promise to one of the most important topics for those people who bother to vote. The campaign is going slow, and at least on the EU level, it is hard to see a clear difference between the lead candidates.

But why is there no debate about happiness in the EU elections?

An economic crisis as the one we’re now gradually recovering from is not only pain. It is also an opportunity to reflect on our policies: never waist a good crisis, as the cliché goes. What is it that really matters to people in Europe? A job and a good income are important. But ultimately, these are a means to an end: living a good life. Well-being, or happiness if you want.

So can’t EU politicians do more for our well-being?

I am certainly convinced they can. And that’s why I call on all candidates, across the entire EU, to campaign on this topic: Gross European Happiness. And my points are the following:

Gross European Happiness (GEH) as a key concept

The most important indicator in the EU is Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Commission collects stats about economic growth, business confidence and consumer confidence every month. GDP is important, but has is limits. Robert F. Kennedy once said that GDP measures everything in life, except that what makes it worthwhile. As an accounting system, GDP has failed. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on people’s quality of life instead? As I’ve argued before, the EU should to use Gross European Happiness (GEH), next to GDP. GEH would be based on Gross National Happiness (GNH) in Bhutan, and help informing EU policies.

Development of a GEH scoreboard

GEH is a lot more complex than GDP. But the Commission has a lot of highly skilled staff. They should be able to grasp what GNH means for the Bhutanese and translate it to European values. They can develop a methodology for GEH, that understand how our economic conditions, community life, free time, (mental) health and education all contribute to well-being. This can be developed into a scoreboard, providing a benchmark on how countries perform – and where they can improve.

A Commissioner for Well-Being

At the moment there are 28 Commissioners, covering a wide spectrum of topics.In one way or another, all these portfolios affect well-being and GEH; for economic affairs, social affairs, health, environment and education the case is most clear. But these are various silos. To effectively make GEH a reality, we need a strong political steer. Therefore, we need a Commissioner for Well-Being to oversee the GEH process, and also to ensure well-being is fed into all other policies.

We could even grant their own Directorate-General; with an administrative French term, it could have DG BONH (Bonheur) as it’s acronym (a bureaucrat is nothing without an acronym). Commission services already assess the impact of their policies on human rights before a proposal is adopted: why not add a ‘happiness impact assessment’ to study whether new policies actually contribute to our well-being?

Education, education, education

Happiness does not only depend on the circumstances you’re in, but also on the way you deal with them. At school, we learn many valuable things, like math, science and history. Though we spend twenty years in education, we learn little about ourself. How does happiness work? In what ways do our brain and our behaviour function? How can you recognise, and prevent, mental health problems? These are important life skills, and schools should pay attention to them. The EU, for instance, could promote the inclusion of the Five Ways to Well-Being into school curricula.

Tell your candidate to work for Gross European Happiness

In 2009, the Commission adopted a policy paper on ‘GDP and beyond. Measuring progress in a changing world‘. Since, it has been silent. It’s time to chance that. Go vote. Tell your candidate what you expect from the EU. Tell them to work for Gross European Happiness. It’s about time that the EU honours the EU Treaty’s line that the Union’s “aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples”.