Dark shadow over European elections

20th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

The election of 736 deputies on 4-7 June is probably the most important held as the EU struggles to emerge from economic crisis and reform the institutions that hold it together.

Strasbourg -- No issues, no interest, no voters. The European Union is heading for a crucial 27-country election in barely two weeks that poses a new threat to the bloc's standing.

Thirty years after the first election to the EU parliament in 1979, the vote remains entrenched in national loyalties and a lack of interest in the great European project, according to politicians and analysts.

The election of 736 deputies on June 4-7 is probably the most important held as the EU struggles to emerge from economic crisis and reform the institutions that hold it together.

The last Eurobarometer survey released in April indicated that barely a third of the 375 million eligible voters plan to turn out. The 45 percent turnout in the last elections in 2004 was already a record low.

"The European Union has knocked down many barriers except the invisible wall of political debate. The race for the Elysee Palace, 10 Downing Street and the Chancellery continue to dominate French, British and German campaigns," said a French member of the European parliament (MEP) Alain Lamassoure.

"Across Europe, it is like we face 27 national campaigns in which European issues are relegated to second place," said Corinne Deloy, a researcher at the Robert Schuman Foundation, a French think-tank.

German MEP Jo Leinen pointed out the paradox that "as the European parliament has become more powerful since 1979, voter participation has gone down to the extent there is no proper European election campaign."

In the Eurobarometer poll, 53 percent of those surveyed said they were "not interested" in the European election. Sixty-two percent said there was no reason to vote as doing so would change nothing.

The trend among most of the 27 EU-member states from Portugal in the west to Romania in the east is to use the election as a vote of confidence in their national governments and leaders.

Leinen said that in Germany, the European campaign has become a litmus test ahead of national elections expected in September and that all the major parties are rallying for early support.

Similarly elections are scheduled for Bulgaria in July and in the Czech Republic in October. In Britain, all the parties are gearing up for a national election next year.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a French-German politician and head of the Greens group in parliament, said President Nicolas Sarkozy has focused the campaign in France "on his personality". Opposition Socialists and centrists have urged people to use the European election as a poll on Sarkozy's record.

Deloy at the Schuman Foundation believes the campaign suffers from the European Parliament's weak and unclear position.

The parliament revises and passes legislation on issues ranging from the environment to transport and consumer rights that is prepared by the European Commission. It also approves the EU budget each year.

But Deloy said: "We elect a European Parliament which still does not have the power to chose the government of Europe which is the European Commission and where the left-right divide is not very obvious."

On a number of issues a British Labour politician has more in common with a French conservative deputy than a French socialist, a problem that is restricting the development of European parties with a strong identity.

"At last we have legal status since 2004, but it remains an embryonic state," said Leinen on failure of the socialist bloc to agree on a rival candidate to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Leinen said that Europe has to reform its elections so that it is organised the same way in each country and that there should be limits on the number of national and European mandates that a single person can take on.

The German MEP said that Euro deputies should be elected from a transnational list to "overcome national political borders."


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