Electing to Sit It Out
A “wake-up call” is how the outgoing president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, described European Parliament elections results.
The four-day elections that ended June 13 revealed a great disinterest by voters across Europe for EU politics and a growing dissatisfaction with ruling parties in several nations. In a record-low turnout, only 45.3 percent of the nearly 350 million eligible voters cast their ballots (although few missed the Euro2004 soccer matches that weekend). Officials described participation as “pathetically low.” Brussels had hoped that the recently added member nations would bring in a new vitality, but to its surprise some of the lowest percentages came from six of the 10 newest members, where an average of 26.8 percent of eligible citizens voted. Slovakia, one of the 10, had the lowest turnout with only 16.7 percent of its voters participating.
The elections also revealed growing discontent and frustration with ruling parties from voters in several nations, including the UK, Germany, France and Italy. According to Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, it was a “disaster for the existing coalition in many countries” (bbc News, June 14). The 732-member Parliament is elected directly by European citizens, with each nation receiving an allotted number of seats based on population; citizens tend to vote for representatives from the national political parties they support. The votes for the EU Parliament, therefore, are viewed as a barometer for national politics.
German voters revealed their dissatisfaction with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his party’s performance by giving the Social Democratic Party (spd) only 23 out of 99 seats—its lowest vote percentage since World War ii.
“People in Germany are extremely dissatisfied with the policies of the federal government,” said Bavarian premier and former opposition leader Edmund Stoiber (Agence France Presse, June 13). With over three years of almost zero growth in the economy and a high unemployment rate, voters are losing confidence in the spd’s leadership. The Christian Democratic Union (cdu)—Stoiber’s party—received 40 seats, taking the majority of the German seats. Spurred on by its results, the cdu is now demanding a seat on the next European Commission.
The biggest surprise, however, came from Britain. There the UK Independence Party (ukip), which advocates Britain’s complete withdrawal from the EU, received 12 of 78 seats—10 percent more than in the last elections, and a close third to Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor Party, which only received 19 seats. The Conservative Party, though it retained the majority, also took a hit, receiving 27 seats, 8 percent fewer than in the previous elections.
Former tv personality Robert Kilroy-Silk, a ukip leader, told reporters his goal for the European Parliament was to “Wreck it—expose it for the waste, the corruption and the way it’s eroding our independence and our sovereignty” (bbc News, op. cit.).
According to UK Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram, “The main message that came out of this was that people in this country are suspicious and concerned about the direction of Europe at the moment” (ibid.).
The ukip wasn’t the only Euroskeptic party to increase its seats. Parties of that ilk made considerable gains in Sweden, Poland, Belgium and France. Out of the entire Parliament, 10-15 percent of the seats are Euroskeptics—parties trying to prune back the EU’s control over their nations.
These elections, with their low turnout and victories for Euroskeptics, have thrown into doubt the legitimacy of the European Parliament. As it is, much of the EU community dismisses the Parliament because of its limited powers. This is dangerous. For under the surface the forces of future tyranny are at work.