For many political observers it began on 5 March 2019: headlines such as "Macron kicks off the European elections campaign" figured in commentaries across Europe.
On that day the French president published an open letter to the citizens of Europe in the major daily papers of all 28 member states. The text, titled "Externer Link: For European renewal", was published on the Elysée website in all EU languages. Macron seemed determined to make sure that his message would get through – especially to all those places where citizens will be voting at the end of May.
However, within France the European Parliament election campaign has played only a minor role so far. The Yellow Vest protests that began at the end of October have put a severe damper on Macron's ambitions for Europe. The president is still preoccupied with the "Externer Link: national debate" he launched in response to the movement, and his party, La République en Marche (LREM), has yet to put together a list and nominate a lead candidate.
For many this is make-or-break
Macron is not alone in his appeal to citizens to decide Externer Link: Europe's fate, however. In January, thirty intellectuals calling themselves "Externer Link: European patriots" joined French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy in warning that the EU was in peril. In addition, George Soros, the US billionaire and a bogeyman for many nationalist governments - with Viktor Orban's leading the way - has also urged Europeans to finally wake up because the EU will be in danger of collapsing if the anti-Europeans gain the upper hand.
But the question is whether these dramatic appeals will actually mobilise voters in the member states. Many are grappling with their own problems right now and in several EU countries national election campaigns are overshadowing the European elections.
The focus on national elections
Spain is one of the EU states preparing for national elections. In mid-February the Catalan regional parties refused to approve the budget presented by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his minority government, with the result that a Externer Link: snap election was called for April 28. Behind all this was the issue of Catalonian independence, which remains the number one topic in the run-up to the general election - and is the main reason why the Spanish won't be paying much attention to the European elections.
In Italy, the regional elections marathon continues in Basilicata at the end of March and then moves to Piemont. Matteo Salvini's Lega made strong gains in Externer Link: Abruzzo and Externer Link: Sardinia recently, while the Five Star Movement, which forms a coalition government with Lega, has lost support. Should this trend continue, observers see little chance of the coalition surviving for much longer.
The Finns and the Danes will also cast their votes for new national parliaments in the first six months of the year, and the Belgians on the very same day as the European elections. Greece and Poland will go to the polls this autumn, and presidential elections are to take place in Slovakia (March), Lithuania (May) and Croatia (December).
In all these countries the European elections campaign will almost certainly be eclipsed by national election campaigns, and the closer the two election dates lie, the more this will be the case.
And come May 26 Macron, too, may be focussed on other matters. The French paper Journal du Dimanche reports that the president is considering holding a Externer Link: vote on the results of the National debate on the same day as the European elections.
At the end of May, the Europeans will elect a new EU Parliament. In view of the deepening divide between nationalists and pro-Europeans observers see the vote as decisive for Europe's future. In our election blog the editors and correspondents of the Externer Link: euro|topics press review follow the election campaign in the member states, discuss the debates, and summarise what's at stake.