EU elections: what's behind the lack of interest?

Four hundred million people are called on to vote in the European elections, but the turnout isn't expected to be very high. In the last elections it was 42.61 percent but it has never come anywhere near the record level recorded in 1979, when the citizens of Europe were allowed to elect their parliament for the first time. Commentators examine the causes and defend those running for election at the end of May.

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Jutarnji list (HR) /

Why turnout is so low in East Europe

The trend towards low voter turnout in Eastern Europe will continue in the EU elections, Jutarnji list suspects:

“Why are people not motivated to vote? ... Are they just lazy? No, you can't say that. It's more that they just don't see the point. From the perspective of the so-called man on the street, the experience of living for almost three decades in a democracy like this tells you that it doesn't matter if you vote or not, nothing will change for you. One party is like any other, because they are all against the man on the street. They make lots of promises but as soon as they get into power it all changes. All of them lie, and by god, they steal too.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Candidates deserve graditude, not contempt

In the face of growing contempt for politicians it is important to show them our gratitude, particularly at election time, argues Berlingske:

“The candidates are doing amazing work, voluntarily, in the name of democracy. ... There is much to suggest that we have overly high expectations about what politicians can achieve, and of course abuse of power has also damaged trust in the political class. But we are all responsible for ensuring that democratic debate is carried out in a respectful manner. If candidates disgrace themselves with stupid statements the press should be critical about it. But we should not forget that mistakes are human and democracy depends on people being prepared to face criticism and the test of electoral campaigns.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Climate policy must also help the weak

Climate protection must not exacerbate social inequalities, Aftonbladet warns in the run-up to the European elections:

“This also means that resources from rich urban areas must be distributed to low-income, rural ones - both in Sweden and in the EU. Anyone who wants to reduce emissions can't just sit back and watch as the rift widens and public investments dwindle. ... If the EU really does value the free movement of goods and people, it would be reasonable for it to invest in a joint railway network so that the freedom of movement can also be sustainable. The European election campaigns must deal with such reforms. We need green investments, not yellow vests, for the common good.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Austrians have a fatal education gap

The lack of political education at Austria's schools is making itself felt in the European elections, Die Presse complains:

“Although nine percent [of Austrians] know what day the election is taking place, only 18 percent say they are likely to vote - the fifth lowest percentage in an EU member state. By contrast, thirty-nine percent said they were unlikely to go and vote. ... This alienation of the citizens vis-à-vis their most important rights - namely being able to choose their political representatives in Brussels and Strasbourg - is a painful reminder of the lack of political education at Austria's schools. No matter how well designed they may be, information campaigns cannot bear fruits among a population that never learned what the EU and consequently the European elections are about.”

The Guardian (GB) /

No one represents EU migrants

Roughly 17 million EU citizens live as migrants in EU states other than their own. Italian-born Spain resident Alberto Alemanno explains in The Guardian why their participation in EU elections is traditionally very low:

“For all the talk of a pan-European debate, elections to the EU parliament tend to be a collection of national electoral competitions in which national parties confront each other on mostly national issues. … This could change, if pan-European political forces emerge. Movements with a political offer for the entire union could give us a voice, and specific representation. But in the meantime, we are almost sidelined. What a paradox. Those who are in effect building Europe from the bottom up, along with their lives and families, simply cannot steer its political future.”

Público (PT) /

International solidarity needed

The EU must look at the bigger picture, the Portuguese Platform for Non-Government Organisations ONGD comments in an opinion piece in Público:

“The European elections are an opportunity to focus the debate on the goals of development cooperation and to recalibrate them. ... As the world's largest donor of development aid, the EU has a responsibility to ensure that development cooperation serves the most endangered population groups, in accordance with the principles of international solidarity and sustainable development. Therefore we call on all candidates to increase their commitment to global development and to give priority to international cooperation aimed at a just, strongly united and sustainable Europe.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Free trade must not be ignored

There is a topic that has been discussed too little in the election campaign so far, says Dagens Nyheter:

“The discontented on the left and right say that there's too much free trade. That's not true. On the contrary, free trade is increasingly under pressure. According to the think tank Global Trade Alert since 2008 there have been twice as many state interventions all over the world that have hurt trade than measures for liberalising trade. ... If this trend is to be reversed it will be necessary not only to mobilise Europe's liberal forces against xenophobic populists, but also against trade barrier policies. ... Free trade and dynamic markets are crucial for Europe's future.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Italian voters are being taken for fools

Italy's ruling parties Lega and the Five Star Movement are luring voters with false promises, Massimo Riva complains in his column in La Repubblica:

“A poisonous combination of deceptions is turning the election campaign into a collective fraud. This is happening elsewhere too, but without reaching the toxic levels seen in Italy. ... The most alarming example is the obsessively repeated claim that this vote offers the chance to free Italy of the restrictions of budgetary discipline, which is being blamed for all the country's financial woes. ... To claim that the dismissal of the 'technocrats' from Brussels would open the doors of paradise is to take the Italians for fools and drive them blindly towards the next disaster.”

Observator Cultural (RO) /

Only populists are tackling European issues

The European Parliament bears most of blame for the fact that pan-European issues are almost entirely absent from election campaigns, comments political scientist Cristian Pîrvulescu in Observator Cultural:

“After the European Parliament blocked Emmanuel Macron's attempt to Europeanise the elections with the help of transnational candidate lists, the Europeanisation of the European elections has become virtually impossible. The vote of February 2018 showed that the national parties of the EU member states were unwilling to hold a European debate. ... Under these conditions, paradoxically it is the anti-European populists who have promoted the Europeanisation of the debate by putting transnational issues on the agenda in order to be able to frame immigration and Islamic colonisation as a plausible threat.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

PiS is a wolf in sheep's clothing

The Poles' purported love of Europe is just for show, writes political scientist and former diplomat Roman Kuźniar in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“We see today how the leaders of this party come together under the slogan 'Poland is the heart of Europe' and surround themselves with EU flags. But this is just a deception in the run-up to the election. After the election this will change. The PiS will want to conclude its system revolution which will give the party permanent power, which means it must return to being at war with the EU. ... Because of this year's elections the government has had to slow down, don sheep's clothing and simulate unity with Europe. The people in the government camp have gobbled up too much and therefore have a lot to lose, so they must change their tactics. ... A change of government is out of the question as far as they're concerned.” (BG) /

Bulgarians need more self-assurance

Twelve years after joining the European Union most Bulgarians still have a skewed image of the EU, complains:

“Now is probably the right time to make clear certain simple but crucial facts: the EU is neither Bulgaria's 'father' nor its 'mother'. And the purpose of our membership is neither to learn the European rules (with the EU as a father who teaches us) nor to access EU funds (with the EU as a mother who takes care of us). While both play a role to a certain extent, it is far more important to grasp that the EU is above all an instrument for pushing through Bulgarian national interests - both within the Union and on the international stage.”

Der Nordschleswiger (DK) /

Who calls the shots in the EU

Der Nordschleswiger explains who calls the shots in the EU:

“The EU is comprised of all of us who live in its member states. We vote for the MEPs who make the policies in Strasbourg and Brussels. And in national elections we vote for the politicians who make possible the policies passed in the EU Parliament - namely the members of the powerful Council of Ministers and the influential European Council, comprising the heads of state and government. What's more, the national governments are far more powerful than they are made out to be - often by themselves. On a par with the European Parliament, they can block policies and find - or prevent - solutions in the EU Council of Ministers. However the national politicians who prevent European solutions from taking shape are only too happy to pass the buck on to Brussels and say that the EU has once again failed.”

Diena (LV) /

Latvia and its less-than-upstanding candidates

Latvia's candidates in the European elections include the mayor of Riga, who has been implicated in a corruption scandal, as well as a number of ex-ministers with less than impressive political track records. Diena is incensed:

“Is it normal that we have so many 'Brussels refugees'? No! Certainly not! After all, the European Parliament isn't a safe haven for people we don't want here in Latvia. We should be equally sceptical about those who are being put forward by the parties as 'guest actors', like decoys for naive voters. ... People say that voters make their choices based on emotions rather than rational arguments. But it's important to keep a balance. This time we should vote with our heads as well as our hearts.”

Kauppalehti (FI) /

Finnland needs committed European politicians

Kauppalehti also finds the choice of candidates in Finland uninspired, and calls on parties and politicians to put their all into the European elections:

“Since enthusiasm for the EU elections in Finland is already at a low, the 'election shopping' on the part of some politicians is particularly deleterious. Twelve of the MPs elected in the recent parliamentary elections are running for the EU elections. Some of them have announced that they won't even accept their seat if they're elected, while another has said he would, but only under certain conditions. Finland has fewer than two percent of the seats in the European Parliament, and that won't change significantly even after the Brexit. That's why it's hugely important that each seat be occupied by a committed individual. And the same principle should apply for the choice of candidates.”

Libération (FR) /

Europe lacks a binding force

Writer Oliver Guez explains in an interview in Libération what Europe is lacking:

“There are regional and national cultures but there is no transnational or pan-European culture. ... I travel a lot and I can see how much each country is focused on itself. Even the intellectual discussions remain very national, each culture is separated from the others. Few authors emerge onto the continental plane. ... There is no European way of thinking! Europe has not wanted or been able to define itself. It has no common culture, identity, or heritage. Yes, there is a class of cultivated, transnational Europeans, but there is no common European narrative that can appeal to the broader population.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Longing for more Europe

Journalist Mattias Svensson describes what he would like the European elections to achieve in Dagens Nyheter:

“I long for a day when services will be as mobile in Europe as goods. I long for a global trade agreement that abolishes tariffs for environmentally friendly goods and services. ... European taxpayers will have to subsidise the dirtiest coal-fired power plants until 2025, but I long for a day when state-subsidised coal is a thing of the past. I long for a Europe that is more productive, more dynamic, and more attractive than it is today. The development of mobility and freedom is and remains an investment in such a future.”

Jydske Vestkysten (DK) /

Don't be useful idiots

In Denmark voters have been able to cast their votes by mail since Monday. This prompts Jydske Vestkysten to warn against fake news circulating online:

“Our relationship with the EU is different to that with the Danish parliament. The EU has a major impact on our everyday life yet our knowledge of it isn't exactly overwhelming. This weakness can be exploited by EU opponents. News on social networks must always be taken with more than just pinch of salt. But now we must be even more careful before we 'like' something, share news or believe information that turns up on Facebook. If we help to spread fake news we become useful idiots for forces that have no good intentions towards our country.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Value of the EU still unclear to many voters

Around 100 million people in the EU who are entitled to vote still don't know who to vote for in the European elections, according to a recent study. The parties are mainly to blame, writes La Vanguardia:

“The main reason could be the lack of enthusiasm of the national parties on the one hand. And on the other their difficulties in conveying to voters the importance of the work that is done in Brussels - not just when it comes to shaping the present but also in creating better conditions for future coexistence. ... The future of each of the countries of the European Union is increasingly being forged in Brussels. And it is there that the destiny of the Old Continent and its cultural identity will be decided.”

Polityka (PL) /

Mussolini's grandson symbolises Italian right

Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini's candidacy well illustrates Italy's shift to the right, Polityka writes:

“The youngest politician in the Mussolini family does not shy away from ties with fascism. His first campaign speech, planned for April 10 in Conselve, was cancelled due to suspicions that he would disseminate fascist ideas. In the restaurant where Mussolini was to appear, seats had been reserved for the leaders of the neo-fascist group Veneto Fronte Skinheads, known for their racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric and their support for Northern Italian separatism. ... In view of the mood in Italian society, which is increasingly polarised and hostile to minorities, it's not impossible that his party Fratelli d'Italia could win at least a few seats in the EU Parliament.”

Politico (BE) /

More women in parliament!

Corinna Horst, deputy director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund, hopes in Politico that in future more women will be elected to the EU Parliament:

“Even in Europe, women should talk more about what's important for them. There's a lot to be concerned about: the uncertainty over Brexit, the rise of anti-European, right-wing populism, the unresolved question of how to deal with migration, the reform of the Eurozone. ... To change both the tone of the debate as well as the way of dealing with big problems, more women must follow in the footsteps of the pioneers. The recipe is simple. Parties: present more women candidates. Women: make your voices heard.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Don't send political outcasts to the EP

More than ever the Europe needs competent MEPs now, El Mundo appeals to the parties that are working on their lists of candidates:

“ In the next European Parliament the two big political families - the People's Party and the Socialists - will no longer have a majority between themselves. This will make multi-party pacts necessary in a legislative period in which Europe must advance in the integration process and speak with one voice if it wants to be a key player in a global game that is becoming more and more complex. We are experiencing a transcendental moment in the integration process which calls for a political leadership that is up to the task. So of course it's not a good sign when we see that in putting together their lists of candidates, the major Spanish parties are treating the EU Parliament more like an elephants' graveyard [for politicians who have had their day] than an important decision-making body that determines our present.”

Azonnali (HU) /

Opposition has missed its chance

The Hungarian opposition parties have missed their chance to mobilise Orbán's opponents, the news website Azonnali writes:

“The middle classes in the cities and rural areas are basically willing to vote, but you'd have to sweat blood to get Fidesz's lumpenproletariat to go to the ballot box because they don't have a clue what the European elections are. No doubt it would be easy to mobilise all those with Instagram or Facebook accounts, or who read Index. They don't want to vote Fidesz. At least they could have been given a small nudge. Maybe a joint campaign stressing that while there's no coalition, voting for any one of these five parties will at least give it a chance. No matter which you vote for, it'll be a vote against Viktor Orbán.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

EU infiltrated by opponents of Islam

Daily Sabah is worried about the expected increase in anti-European and anti-Muslim forces in the EU Parliament:

“Not only will the number of far-right and far-left populist members of parliament increase after May 27, 2019, in the corridors of the European Parliament, which claims to be the highest democratic institution of the EU and has a 'sacred' duty to preserve EU values. All European Parliament resources, which are very costly for EU citizens, will be abused by members of parliament who are in direct opposition to the EU and Europe. Taxes paid by European Muslims and Turks - either EU citizens or working in the EU - will be used to battle Muslims and Turks.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

No black-and-white thinking, please!

In the campaign for the elections the Swedish Trade Union Confederation is using an ad with video footage showing Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke demanding lower wages for women. These polarising tactics are not a good idea, Göteborgs-Posten explains:

“Those who maintain that they hate Europe have changed their strategy. Instead of rejecting the EU as such, they are calling for an alternative union. ... It's easier to maintain that peace in Europe is under threat than it is to say that we need a new chemicals directive or that it's time for Europe-wide control of antibiotics use. ... So it can be tempting to reduce debate on Europe to the question of whether you're for it or against it. ... That works well when the opponent is almost a parody, like Korwin-Mikke. But it's hardly a good strategy against the 'Europe-haters' who will be running in this election.”

Haniotika Nea (GR) /

Europe is very distant for the Greeks

Haniotika Nea is enraged by the way the European elections are treated in Greek public life:

“It was always like this in our country. Since we joined the EU (in 1981) the European elections have been more about our internal affairs than about the events in Europe! No one informs us about what we call Europe, or about what is going on there. We talk about the European elections but we see Europe as something distant that is only important for the Germans, the French, the Italians and so on, but not for the average Greek voter. It's one of the paradoxes of Greek politics: the European election is just around the corner but the politicians are focussed on ancient scandals, corruption, entanglements, the candidates. ... Not on what the European elections are really about: the future of this great family - the world's greatest post-war achievement.”

Le Monde (FR) /

EU must focus on migration policy

Migration policy should play a key role in the election campaign, Le Monde admonishes:

“This sensitive topic still risks getting out of control, as was made clear by the recent dissent in Europe over the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration - which was backed by the UN but decried by the populists. Brussels still hasn't developed a common immigration - or even asylum - policy. Whatever course the campaign takes, the problem of migration will remain one of the top priorities of European leaders. Because in recent years the countries have proven incapable of showing sufficient solidarity to jointly approach this issue for which there can be no national solution. Forgetting that would be to play right into the hands of the far right.”