10 June 2004
AMSTERDAM — Polling booths in the Netherlands and the UK opened Thursday at the start of four days of voting across the expanded 25-member European Union.
Almost 12 million Dutch people and European Union citizens living in the Netherlands are eligible to vote.
European expats who are registered with the Dutch population register have been sent a voting card with the address of their local polling station.
The biggest question is not so much who will be chosen to represent the Netherlands in the European Parliament for the next five years – rather how many will actually bother to exercise their democratic right at all.
The Netherlands is regarded as being relatively positive about EU membership. Some 62 percent said it is “a good thing” in a recent Eurobarometer poll.
But when it comes to voting in European elections, the Dutch have a fairly dismal track record. Just under 30 percent of the Dutch electorate voted at the last European elections in 1999, and turnout in the UK was even lower at 24 percent.
Now, the two states with the least enthusiastic registered European Parliament voters kick off the first major electoral test since the EU expanded from 15 to 25 states on 1 May this year.
As a result of expansion, the number of Dutch MEPs drops from 31 to 27.
Voters can choose from 15 political parties taking part in the election in the Netherlands, ranging from the Socialist Party SP, Labour PvdA, and green party GroenLinks on the left, the centrist Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66, to the tiny Nieuw Rechts (New Right).
Animal lovers also have the choice of voting for the PvdD – the Party for the Animals.
The other 23 EU states will hold their elections over the weekend.
The European poll is the second biggest electoral contest in the world. The general election in India, with 370 million registered voters, is the biggest.
Some 349 million people across Europe are being asked to choose 732 Members of the European Parliament, but the electoral contests will likely be dominated by a combination of local politics, widespread apathy and anti-EU sentiment.
In recent weeks hopes of a higher turnout in the Netherlands and in other EU states had been expressed in the media. On Wednesday a new pan-EU opinion poll indicated an average of 52 percent across the EU states were expected to vote, up from 50 percent in 1999, French news agency AFP reported.
Despite widespread euro scepticism and voter apathy in the Netherlands, opinion poll findings suggest a hike in the turnout figures generated by the increasing publicity about the EU as a result of the expansion.
Polling booths across the Netherlands opened at 7.30am local time and will remain open until 9pm.
The Dutch government is experimenting with initiatives to make voting more attractive. In the towns Assen, Deventer, Heerlen and Nieuwegein, voters can decide which polling booth within their municipality to go to, without having made a prior arrangement.
Prior to this, voters had to seek authorisation to vote anywhere but their local polling station.
In a second experiment, Dutch voters living overseas can cast their ballot via internet or telephone.
Risking the ire of the European Commission, the Dutch government plans to release the election results for the Netherlands on Thursday night, ahead of voting in the other EU states, apart from the UK.
The European Commission has warned of legal action against the Netherlands if it goes ahead and releases the results early.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news + European elections 2004