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European elections: 33% turnout predicted

by afew Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 03:29:10 AM EST

French newspaper Libération's Brussels correspondent, Jean Quatremer, has had a sneak peek at an about-to-be-published Eurobarometer poll:

L’abstention guette les européennes - LibérationAbstention looms for the European elections - Libération
Le taux d’abstention pour les élections européennes du 7 juin pourrait atteindre 66 % ! C’est du moins ce que prévoit le sondage Eurobamètre effectué dans les 27 Etats membres que la Commission européenne s’apprête à rendre public (1). Il s’agit d’un record : depuis 1979, date de la première élection du Parlement européen au suffrage universel, l’abstention n’a cessé de progresser (de 37 % il y a trente ans à 54,3 % en juin 2004) alors même que ses pouvoirs n’ont cessé de se renforcer, au point désormais d’égaler ceux du Conseil des ministres.The rate of abstention for the European elections on the 7th of June could reach 66%! So, at least, says the Eurobarometer poll of the 27 member states that the EC is about to publish. It would be a record: since 1979, date of the first European Parliament election by universal suffrage, abstention has continuously increased (from 37% thirty years ago to 54.3% in June 2004), even at the same time as (Parliament's) powers have continued to grow, to the point where they now equal those of the Council of ministers.
C’est la Pologne qui décroche le record de l’abstention : seuls 17 % des Polonais sont certains d’aller voter. Viennent ensuite l’Autriche (21 %), la Grande-Bretagne (22 %), le Portugal (24 %), la Slovaquie (25 %), la République tchèque (26 %), la Hongrie et l’Espagne (toutes deux à 27 %), l’Italie (30 %) et la Bulgarie (31 %). Parmi les très bons élèves, la Belgique (70 %) et le Luxembourg (62 %)… où le vote est obligatoire. Suivis par Malte et le Danemark (56 %), la Suède (49 %), Chypre et la Grèce (48 %), la France et les Pays-Bas (47 %), etc. L’Allemagne pointe à 43 %.Poland gets the low turnout record : only 17% of Poles are sure to vote. Then Austria (21%), Britain (22%), Portugal (24%), Slovakia (25%), the Czech Republic (26%), Hungary and Spain (both 27%), Italy (30%), and Bulgaria (31%). Among the very good pupils, Belgium (70%) and Luxembourg (62%)... where voting is compulsory. Followed by Malta and Denmark (56%), Sweden (49%), Cyprus and Greece (48%), France and the Netherlands (47%) etc. Germany comes in at 43%.

One thing is sure: the media are not talking about these elections. In the daily Salon here, we have a special section for the elections. Finding news items, across the European press, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. "European elections", fed into Google News, for example, returns amazingly little fresh news. Jean Quatremer says:


L’abstention guette les européennes - LibérationAbstention looms for European elections - Libération
Désintérêt médiatique. La responsabilité de la presse dans ce désintérêt est écrasante : seulement 36 % des citoyens ont lu, entendu ou vu un sujet consacré au Parlement européen dans leurs médias. C’est en Grande-Bretagne, en France et en Italie que le désintérêt médiatique est perçu comme le plus grand. Ceux qui ont eu l’occasion d’être informés ont le sentiment que les médias étaient plutôt favorables (44 %) au Parlement que défavorables (36 %). C’est en Grande-Bretagne, en Belgique et en France que la presse est perçue comme la plus hostile.Lack of media interest The responsibility of the press in this disinterest is overwhelming: only 36% of people have read, heard or seen a topic devoted to the European Parliament in their media. Lack of meidia interest is perceived greatest in Great Britain, France, and Italy. Those who have come across information felt that the media were rather favourable (44%) to Parliament than unfavourable (36%). It is in Great Britain, Belgium, and France that the press is perceived as the most hostile.
Au final, cette méconnaissance alliée à la crise économique aboutit à un effondrement de la confiance dans les institutions communautaires : le Parlement européen perd six points dans l’indice de confiance en six mois, passant de 51 % à 45 %, la Commission chute de 47 % à 42 % et la Banque centrale européenne, en dépit de son rôle stabilisateur unanimement salué par les politiques et les experts, de 48 % à 39 %. Une défiance qui se reflète dans l’abstention massive qui menace la légitimité de la seule institution européenne élue au suffrage universel.Ultimately, this lack of awareness coupled with the economic crisis leads to a collapse of confidence in community institutions: the European Parliament loses six points in the confidence index in six months, from 51% to 45%, the Commission falls from 47% to 42%, and the European Central Bank, despite its stabilizing role acknowledged by political leaders and experts, from 48% to 39%. This mistrust is reflected in the massive abstention that threatens the legitimacy of the only EU institution elected by universal suffrage.

Why are the media not interested? I heard, this morning on French public radio, from a right-wing sovereignist and a (quoted) Communist, the same response: it's a conspiracy of silence to stop the people rising up against the EU (by voting for right-wing sovereignists and communists, one assumes).

How right is that? And, if it's wrong, what's the problem?

Display:
The poll was taken in January-February 2009.

One might assume that media coverage has picked up since then. Hardly, according to the Gogol News yardstick I'm using...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 03:32:20 AM EST
On the 'bright side', I don't think we'll see the 'hot' phase of the campaign in most countries until May.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 03:54:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Methinks it also has to do with the nature of the campaigns: content-free, and almost only national in focus, making the elections pointless.

(If I'll find the time, I'll put together a diary on some campaign slogans in Hungary).

Even at the one place where the EP elections seem to count something, in Bavaria, it's for local reasons: the Bavarian CSU is struggling to pass the 5% limit valid across all of federal Germany on its own. So the CSU is making a lot of noise, while various public interest groups try to push the CSU in its tight situation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 03:52:48 AM EST
DoDo:
Methinks it also has to do with the nature of the campaigns: content-free, and almost only national in focus, making the elections pointless.
Classic second-order election problem.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 03:57:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, an enhanced case: not just the electors but the contestants treat it as such.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 04:06:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True. But this is a chicken-and-egg problem. Does the public perceive the elections as unimportant because the campaign is conducted on national issues and the parties stack their lists with small fry or old glories? Or do the parties only talk about national issues because that's where the voter interest lies. Do candidates themselves (rightly?) perceive that being in Strasbourg disconnect thems from the home country patronage networks in a way that is damaging to their careers?

It also appears the European Parliament is the original second-order election

The term has appeared for the first time in Karlheinz Reif and Hermann Schmitt's "Nine second-order national elections -A conceptual framework for the analysis of European election results" article for the European Journal of Political Research, in 1980.
(Wiki)

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 04:36:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't really see how an election that is not about deciding who gets actual power can become important on its own. As long as the EP doesn't actually contest the Commission head, as long as the EP presidency is shared between the two largest parties, as long as the parties aren't all that united, as long as EP votes are decided by motivated MEPs who didn't get elected by themselves (and the MEPs that matter will either be certainly reelected or have been booted from their national lists)... The EP elections won't matter. What's the point of choosing between the 13th guy on the PS list and 20th guy on the UMP list, both guy who won't have any influence, action or even presence in Brussels ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 04:46:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if the media reported properly about the activity of the EU rather than doing celebrity reporting about the Council and Barroso people would realise how important the EP actually is.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 05:23:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Even if the media correctly reported about EP activities, the elections would still lack political importance - there's only one candidate for Commission head...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 05:50:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And he is unelected...

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 06:13:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not any more or less than most Prime Ministers...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 07:39:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, he's not even appointed by the European Parliament.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 08:42:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Spain it is the King who appoints the PM, in France the PM is appointed by the President and then the whole government is confirmed by the parliament... In the UK, the PM is appointed by the queen...

The power to accept or not a nomination, which the EP has if I'm not mistaken, is a power to appoint in effect. If the EP chooses to take that power.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:09:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be rare for the King, Queen or President to not appoint the (list) leader of the largest party, known beforehand. The Council has much more freedom picking the Commission President.

Then again, without a Grand Coalition in the EP... different developments would have been possible.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:18:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But then, the problem is that the European political scene is pretty much without strong parties ; in France in the third or fourth republics, choosing the PM among various possible candidates was the most important role of the President. Yet he had to choose one that suited the parliament. Right now the Council doesn't give a damn about the Parliament.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:23:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Council is, itself, like the Senate (very much like the German Bundesrat in that the States' presidents actually sit on it, or like the Swiss Federal Council). It is a coequal organ with the Parliament and so can ignore it.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:31:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Without strong parties? I'm afraig the EPP is not only the largest by MEPs and State governments but also the one that is starting to act strategically about placing their own at the top of EU institutions. (And Blair is now clearly a Christian Democrat even if he's nominally PES)

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:34:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's the voter discipline like for EPP MEP's ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:46:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm a party member so I've seen the internal workings of selecting our MEP candidates, and receive updates every so often about the work that my elected MEPs have been doing.  I'm not always clear on whether correspondence I get will have an audience wider than party members but I suspect not.

So for people who are not politically involved or aware, I am not surprised that there is little interest because unless you go looking you aren't likely to come across information that puts these elections into much context for you as an individual. The media aren't running with it yet.  So what will motivate people to vote on something they have little concept of (in the UK at least)?

I'm wondering if any social research or more detailed opinion polls have been carried out looking at people's perceptions of the EU, MEPS etc.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 04:56:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does anyone know what proportion of the media have Brussels correspondents ? (And, by the way, what proportion of those correspondents haven't drunk the neo-lib cool aid in the way Quatremer has, and thus provide alternative reporting on Brussels that might engage non-believers ?)

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 04:34:23 AM EST
Recent polls in Sweden showed that about 1/3 planned to vote in the EP-election and about the same knew which month it was. But most parties start their campaigns in May.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 05:25:44 AM EST
Jon Worth has some more thoughts on this.

I think participation in the elections could be improved if there is some clear argument on why it is important to vote that is made to all European citizens. But the bland advertising campaigns of the EP via Scholz & Friends and MTV won't help.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 07:02:02 AM EST
I think Worth sums it up quite well, with his picture:

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:16:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There was an article in a recent edition of Le Nouvel Observateur (I think) that French politicians in general view sitting in the EP as a form of political exile; it focused in particular on Rachida Dati (as L'Obs is wont to do) and her reluctance to stand for the EP elections. Since media coverage is so tepid, amibitious politicians don't view it as a viable career option or more than a temporary gig, creating an attention downward spiral of sorts (and so much for serving the public as its own reward!).

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 07:02:06 AM EST
I have written a few months ago that in nowadays French political culture, running for the European parliament, away from the real center of power (Paris, where else?) was tantamount to political exile in Siberia; a punishment doled out by His Majesty our president to disgraced aides who have incurred his wrath for one reason or another: Rama Yade (who refused at her peril), Rachida Dati (who accepted).

Media coverage is just a reflect of the conventional wisdom of the French pols class: EP doesn't matter; only the Executive branch does, and the French parliament to a lesser degree.

Oh, Europe has always been convenient as a tool to help ram down neolib reform (it's Brussels who made us do it, not our fault; honest), and even then, the perceived center of European power is Brussels, not Strasbourg.

The European Parliament has always been considered as a potted plant; a retirement home for old glories like Michel Rocard or not so old like Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

Look at the HADOPI "Three strikes" circus: even though this law would be in direct contradiction with the EP decisions, our own lawmakers (and the contents owner lobby), are hell bent into passing it at any cost, even postponing another law about incest for the purpose. This is beyond autism.

Blaming the French media for the superficial or wanting coverage is besides the point: its the French political class that needs a serious wake-up call.

As of today, they still believe they can legislate their own way and the  rest of Europe will comply. To be fair, the example is coming from the top.

by Bernard on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 01:11:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with all this except that it's not just the French media - it's everyone's media across Europe. And it's not so much blame the media as wonder why the media aren't covering. Mostly, I suspect, because belief in European institutions is at an alltime low and that no one really cares about these elections, so why waste media time on them?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 01:36:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And hopefully give the UMP some ass-kicking.

A 'centrist' is someone who's neither on the left, nor on the left.
by nicta (nico&#65312;altiva&#8228;fr) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 09:13:10 AM EST


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