The flags of the European Union and its member states are flying on flagpoles positioned close to each other in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Time to vote: Europe has a choice to make

The European Union is at a turning point. Never before has it been confronted with so many challenges at the same time as in 2024, a year in which a number of crucial elections will be held. From June 6 to 9, Europeans will be able to choose the direction in which the EU continues to develop. Across the continent, 400 million people are being called on to vote.

Contact Persons

Foto Daniela Schwarzer
Prof. Dr. Daniela Schwarzer
Member of the Executive Board
Foto Jake Benford
Jake Benford
Senior Project Manager
Foto Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook
Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook
Senior Advisor
Foto Andrey Demidov
Dr. Andrey Demidov
Project Manager
Foto Sibylle Sophie Gröbel
Sibylle Sophie Gröbel
Project Manager
Foto Dominik Hierlemann
Dr. Dominik Hierlemann
Senior Advisor
Foto Etienne Höra
Etienne Höra
Project Manager
Foto Isabell Hoffmann
Isabell Hoffmann
Senior Expert
Foto Christian Huesmann
Dr. Christian Huesmann
Senior Project Manager
Foto Angela Jain
Dr. Angela Jain
Senior Project Manager
Foto Cora Francisca Jungbluth
Dr. Cora Francisca Jungbluth
Senior Expert China and Asia-Pacific
Foto Nicole Kleeb
Nicole Kleeb
Project Manager
Foto Miriam Kosmehl
Miriam Kosmehl
Senior Expert Eastern Europe and EU Neighbourhood
Foto Mia Madita Lücker
Mia Madita Lücker
Project Manager
Foto Thieß Petersen
Dr. Thieß Petersen
Senior Advisor
Anna Renkamp
Senior Project Manager
Foto Lucas Merlin Resende Carvalho
Lucas Merlin Resende Carvalho
Project Manager
Foto Marek Wallenfels
Marek Wallenfels
Foto Malte Tim Zabel
Dr. Malte Tim Zabel


A war on the EU's border has shaken its security order. China is becoming more and more of a rival and the future of Europe's transatlantic relations seems uncertain, while advancing climate change and the digital transformation are requiring massive responses. In addition, the EU itself requires urgent reform if it is to remain capable of taking effective action.

Against this background, the EU needs – more than ever before – a strong parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg. Since the first direct elections 45 years ago, the European Parliament's powers have been steadily expanded following numerous reforms. It is now a legislative body of equal standing in almost all European policy areas, adopting the EU's budget together with the member states, approving amendments to the European treaties and the accession of new EU members, and electing the European Commission. It is therefore all the more worrying that current forecasts predict right-wing political parties critical of the EU will post significant gains across Europe.

Our foundation is pursuing two goals through its activities related to the European elections. First, we want to help increase voter turnout, especially among young people. Second, we want to use our analyses, evaluations and policy recommendations to respond to the key challenges that will have to be addressed in the coming legislative period.

Increasing voter turnout among young people

Young people feel their voices are not sufficiently heard in politics, business and society. Yet they have attitudes and ideas about their future that need to be taken seriously. Through the initiative GenNow, we are helping tackle this problem by promoting political participation and social engagement among young people between the ages of 16 and 30. 

Studies by our Next Generation and Society project team show that 18- to 30-year-olds in Germany have more confidence in democracy and the European Union than their counterparts in other European countries do. Nevertheless, young people in particular often do not exercise their right to vote. Given the rise of forces that are a threat to an economically united and a cohesive Europe, it is especially important that as many people as possible go to the polls this year.

On June 9, 2024, 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to vote in the European elections for the first time. Many first-time voters are expected to use the opportunity to make use of their right to vote. Overall in Europe, the willingness on the part of young people to vote appears to lag that of the older population. This emerges from fresh data assessed by eupinions, our European opinion research tool. Our initiative #NowEurope is therefore aimed at young first-time voters from non-academic backgrounds. Through our workshops at vocational schools, our regional events and a social media campaign, we're taking action together with our cooperation partners throughout Germany. Thanks to more than 40 workshops, over 30 network partners and more than 70 events and initiatives, we're reaching tens of thousands of young people prior to the European elections.

Young people are critical of political institutions

We also know from our studies that young people are more critical of Germany's political institutions: More than one in two respondents between the ages of 18 and 30 (52 percent) express distrust in the country's government while 45 percent have little confidence in its parliament. Through our Next Generation and Society project series, we are therefore empowering young people to help shape a sustainable society and increasing their involvement in politics through roundtables, workshops and networking.

Given the multiple elections taking place in 2024, the question also arises of how young people's attitudes towards democracy are being influenced by their use of social media – and what that means for the future of democracy. To raise awareness of this challenge and highlight examples of possible solutions, we are collaborating with numerous experts to discuss the impact of social media on the democratic mindset of young people and their political responses to it.

During the European Youth Event in Berlin on April 20, 2024, the volunteers from the #NowEurope network and the students from the school workshops organized by the Bertelsmann Stiftung's initiative GenNow are taking a group photo. Credit: Archiv Bertelsmann Stiftung

Disinformation is a threat to democracy

A key role is being played by Forum Against Fakes, which has initiated a broad debate on how to deal with disinformation. Earlier this year, the project called on the public to get involved and some 200,000 people have now taken part in the discussion, submitting 1,611 concrete suggestions on how to combat fake news.   

People in Germany view targeted disinformation as a threat to democracy – a fact confirmed by our study "Disconcerted Public". Of the respondents surveyed for this analysis, 81 percent say that misinformation endangers democracy. Moreover, one respondent in two is often or very often unsure if the information they find on the Internet is true.

In the EU Democracy Reform Observatory, a cooperative project with the European Policy Centre and other foundations, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is focusing on citizen participation and its significance for further developing European democracy. In our public Democracy Conversations, we are joined by members of the European Parliament to discuss current prospects for EU reforms. Together with the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), we have launched an appeal to encourage people to vote in the European elections, which is being supported by young politicians from throughout Europe who have come together in the Young Elected Politicians network. The goal is to raise awareness directly in European cities, towns and regions of the European elections' importance for the local level. The voter turnout appeal is the result of our collaboration with the CoR on "skills building for citizen participation."

Immediately after the European elections, Dominik Hierlemann, our expert for citizen participation, and European Commissioner Dubravka Suica will appear at the European Commission's Citizen Participation Festival to discuss how we can live democracy more fully not only at election time, but in our everyday lives.

What the EU needs to deal with after the elections

Our program Europe's Future is primarily active on the policy level. We are committed to helping create a sovereign and united Europe that can defend its values and interests externally because it stands together internally. This is particularly true for the European elections.  

In a special issue of renowned journal "Internationale Politik" dedicated to the EU, our experts take a comprehensive look at the different challenges crucial to Europe's future that need to be addressed in the European Parliament's next legislative period – from China and transatlantic relationships to inequalities in the European Single Market.

At the same time, a series of special articles in English is being posted on our blog prior to the European elections. To launch the series, Malte Zabel explains why the coming elections are the most important ever. In the second article, Daniela Schwarzer, a member of our Executive Board, looks at why the EU requires urgent reform after the elections and why it must strengthen its rule of law if it is to successfully welcome new members.
Dominik Hierlemann discusses ways to create a true "Europe of the citizens." Jake Benford outlines the UK's relationship with the EU and explores how the two could again collaborate more effectively following the European elections.

Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook and Cora Jungbluth examine the question of how the EU should engage with the two global powers, China and the United States, over the next five years. Clüver Ashbrook warns that the European Union must do more now to prepare for a possible second Trump administration after the US presidential election in November. Jungbluth criticizes the fact that the EU still does not have a coordinated policy for dealing with its systemic rival and makes suggestions for rectifying this situation.

Voter turnout expected to be higher than five years ago

In a Europe-wide survey, our eupinions research tool examined Europeans' attitudes to the coming elections. The results show that 60 percent of the 400 million people eligible to vote plan on going to the polls. That would be around 10 percent more than during the last elections five years ago. The survey also reveals that 75 percent of Europeans recognize Ursula von der Leyen by name and on sight. That means the current European Commission president is much better known that any of her predecessors.

On May 28, we will also be organizing an event on the European elections jointly with the Danish Embassy and SZ Dossier in Berlin, in which our Executive Board member Daniela Schwarzer will participate as a panelist. The topic: "Soft Power in a Tough World. EU Elections and European Responses in Challenging Times."

Strengthening democracy – on both sides of the Atlantic

The multiple elections in 2024 and the question of how we can strengthen democracy are also the focus of two new episodes of our podcast "Zukunft gestalten" (Shaping the Future). Irene Braam, executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation North America, and transatlantic expert Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook discuss the elections in the European Union and the US. In a subsequent episode, Marie Jünemann from the association Mehr Demokratie (More Democracy) and Daniela Schwarzer, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, explore what can be done to strengthen democracy in this "super election year."

#StrengtheningDemocracy is also a topic on the other side of the Atlantic, where our colleagues in Washington are taking a detailed look at the state of democracy in 2024. What would  an election victory for Trump mean for democracy in the US? What would it mean for Europe? And how polarized is the US really?

For the European elections, the Bertelsmann Foundation North America has created an animation that shows why this election is of great importance for the US and how it will influence the future of transatlantic relations.

In the runup to the previous elections for the European Parliament, we took the opportunity to create this short video on what life would be like if the European Union no longer existed: