The results are flooding in now, and it looks pretty clear that centre-right parties have won the 2009 European Parliament elections. They seem to have done especially well in the European Union’s six biggest countries: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and (though official results aren’t out yet) the UK.
But spare a thought for some of the smallest and strangest parties that have also notched up a success or two. One is Sweden’s Pirate Party, which has shot to prominence because of its complaints about a crackdown on computer file-sharing among ordinary users of the internet. The Pirates have raided the Swedish political establishment and look set to carry off at least one seat in the EU parliament.
Oh, dear, oh, dear. The European Parliament has just released its first official estimate of voter turnout in the elections to the legislature, and it’s a bit of a shocker. They reckon that a mere 43.01 per cent of eligible voters took the trouble to cast ballots. If so, that would be the lowest on record and the seventh consecutive decline in turnout since direct elections were introduced to the European Union’s legislature in 1979.
I have sometimes heard it said around Brussels that the EU shouldn’t beat itself up about the low turnout, because the picture is pretty much the same for US mid-term congressional elections, in which voter participation has hovered at the 40 per cent mark for the past 30 years. Does anyone question the legitimacy of US mid-term elections?
It’s election day in Europe, but in certain respects the most important events are taking place outside the voting booths.
According to a RTE/Sunday Independent opinion poll in Ireland, supporters of the European Union’s Lisbon treaty will defeat opponents by a margin of 54 per cent to 28 per cent (with 18 per cent undecided) when the treaty is submitted to a second referendum, probably in October. Such a thumping victory would not only reverse but for all practical purposes bury the memory of Irish voters’ rejection of the treaty in June 2008.
If one trend is emerging from the early results and exit polls of the European Parliament elections, it is that ruling political parties are in for an uncomfortable night. Voters are deserting them in droves and transferring their support either to mainstream opposition parties or to protest groups and extremists.
Put another way, voters have used the elections as a chance to state their feelings about current conditions in their respective countries. There has been nothing particularly “European” about the way they have cast their ballots.
“No European Parliament-related term has made it under the top 100 Twitter trend terms of the last week” says Julien Frisch on the Watching Europe blog, referring to the micro-blogging site used by some MEPs to drum up interest in the elections. Susan Boyle was second. (Joshua Chaffin’s take on the Parliament’s web presence in Saturday’s FT is worth a read)
As turnout continues to be the dominant theme, is the problem that European elections are not separated enough from national ones, ask the Young European Federalists?