Elections 2009

The composition of the newly elected European Parliament, which holds its first session next week, will make many Britons hang their heads in shame.  For British politicians are either poorly represented, or not represented at all, in the 736-seat assembly’s three biggest political groups: the centre-right, centre and centre-left.  By contrast, Brits dominate the Eurosceptic and far-right fringes.

The loss of British influence in the parliament, which has a say in most European Union laws, will be substantial.  The likely damage to Britain’s reputation in Europe can only be guessed at. 

Is José Manuel Barroso’s reappointment as European Commission president in trouble?  Probably not.  But the jury is still out on whether he will secure formal approval from the European Parliament as early as mid-July.  If he does not, it will be difficult to dispel the clouds of doubt that will linger over his future for two months or more.

Such uncertainty is hardly what the European Union needs at a moment when its banking system faces hundreds of billions of euros in losses this year and next, and when Germany and France, the eurozone’s two biggest economies, appear utterly at odds over when and how to rebalance their public finances

Back in 1970 or so, there was a children’s Saturday morning TV show called “The Banana Splits”, in which some ludicrous character or other would frantically splutter “Hold the bus!” – always too late, for the bus would proceed on its way regardless.  It is an irresistible temptation to compare the four Banana Splits of 40 years ago - Bingo, Fleegle, Drooper and Snorky – with certain members of today’s European Parliament.

For while the legislators are busy spluttering “Stop Barroso!”, they are saying it much too late.  José Manuel Barroso is proceeding on his way to reappointment as European Commission president.  In fact, the entire episode threatens to show the European Union in the worst possible light, after EU-wide elections to the European Parliament that, with their record low turnout, were themselves not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way the EU conducts its business. 

Richard Corbett, a well-liked British Labour MEP who won’t be coming back to Brussels, has a few harsh words for the national politicians whose shenanigans sealed his political fate. “Losing is one thing – ceding a seat to the BNP is another,” he says.

Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish commissioner in charge of communications strategy, is clear that the low turnout is not Brussels’ fault. “A hunt for someone to blame will also no doubt start and some will look to blame the Commission, which would be absurd.  The main responsibility for persuading people to vote lies with the political parties.  … It is for others to learn the lessons for the next few years.” 

The elections did, finally, make an appearance on Twitter, at one point accounting for … 0.71 per cent of all “tweets”. Late at night on Sunday, a time in which relatively little else was happening, one guesses. It’s now back to 0.02 per cent.

Much of the blogging looked at why turnout once again anaemic: 

Who were the biggest winners and biggest losers of the European Parliament elections?

Top of the winners’ list are surely Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.  Merkel’s Christian Democrats destroyed her Social Democrat coalition partners at the polls, and Sarkozy’s UMP party brushed aside the opposition French socialists.  Merkel and Sarkozy will feel vindicated in their approach to the global economic crisis, particularly as regards the need to introduce tougher financial regulation (and to lecture central banks from time to time). 

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?