Turnout has fallen in each European election since the first direct elections in 1999. In 2009 less than half of those eligible to do so took the opportunity to vote. To the European elites this represents a paradox. The Parliament is the only directly elected of the EU’s institutions. With each successive treaty it has acquired powers at the expense of the Commission and national governments.
In my experience, voters generally act rationally. So it is worth considering why this might be. Decision-making in the EU is obscure, with the commission retaining the exclusive right, in most cases, to initiate legislation. More importantly, there is little obvious relationship between votes cast and the relentless drive for further integration.
With the Eurozone mired in recession, there is growing concern in Brussels that next year’s elections will see a new record for voter apathy. There is also concern that “populist” parties will gain from a disillusionment with Europe’s failure to deliver economic prosperity. With this in mind our parliamentarians have come up with two proposals that they believe will encourage participation.
Firstly, each political group will name its candidate for president of the Commission. This almost happened in 2009 but, in the end, the socialists could not agree on a candidate.
Making the Parliamentary elections a surrogate for selecting the President has the possibility of connecting the voter with an identified programme of works. In practice, however, since it is unlikely any party will control an absolute majority in the parliament, the choice is likely to come down to the same old horse trading. It is even possible that the two largest groups, the centre-right European People’s Party and centre-left Party of European Socialists will agree to “share” the major positions: President of the Commission and High Representative (Foreign Minister).
Parliament’s second proposal is more unrealistic. They want candidates to be identified, not only by their national party, but with the logo of their pan-European political group. I can confidently guarantee that not one single additional voter in the south-east will vote in next year’s election because next to our list of candidates appears the logo of the European Conservatives and Reformists. Asking voters to turn out to support people they have never heard of standing for parties they have never heard of is not going to increase turnout.
There could be no better demonstration that our European leaders inhabit a hermetically sealed Brussels bubble.