SHARE
COPY LINK

EU ELECTIONS

Falling turnout at European elections: the reasons

Voter turnout at European Parliament elections has dropped steadily over the years, hitting a record low of 43 percent at the last poll in 2014. Ahead of the May 23-26 elections for the European Union's assembly, here is an overview.

Falling turnout at European elections: the reasons
Photos: AFP

Staying away 

In 1979, at the first direct election for representatives to the European Parliament, just 38 percent of voters stayed away from the polls.

Since then voter turnout for the five-yearly election has progressively fallen, with a record 57 percent of voters abstaining in 2014.

At the same time, however, the powers of the parliament have increased.

Having had limited scope in 1979, Euro-MPs can now co-legislate in some areas alongside national ministers in the EU Council.

EU distant 

In almost all EU countries more people vote at national general polls than for the European Parliament.

The gap is on average 25 percentage points across the bloc, Sciences Po university professor Olivier Rozenberg told AFP.

EU citizens feel “less close” to the European elections than polls at their national and local levels, the Jacques Delors Institute think-tank said in a 2014 report.

In a September 2018 survey 48 percent of Europeans said they “believe that their voice counts in the EU”, according to the Eurobarometer polling body.

This rose to 62 percent for their own countries, its survey found.

Compulsory vote scrapped 

In 1979 voting was compulsory in three countries — Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg — of the nine that made up the precursor to the European Union, the European Economic Community.

The three accounted for a quarter of the bloc's voters.

That proportion dropped to about five percent as new members joined and Italy dropped the obligation to vote in the 1990s, which “probably played a major role in the decline in overall voting rates at the European elections,” the Jacques Delors Institute said.

In the forthcoming elections, voting will be compulsory in five countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Luxembourg.

This is not a guarantee of turnout however, as many voters choose to break the law and not cast ballots.

While abstention is weak in Belgium and Luxembourg at between 10 and 15 percent, in Greece it was 40 percent at the 2014 poll, and 56 percent in Cyprus.

Record abstention in east

Slovakia posted the highest abstention rate of 87 percent at the 2014 poll.

Ten of the 12 countries with the lowest turnouts were from the former communist bloc in the east, young countries that are the most recent to join the EU.

Voting in these nations is “a little less sacred” than in other European countries, Rozenberg said.

“For us (western countries) voting is synonymous with democracy, while this link is less clear in Eastern countries where there are still memories of non-pluralist elections,” he said.

Politics in eastern countries is also more fluid, with parties regularly changing names and alliances.

“That does not favour partisan identity and therefore the vote,” Rozenberg said.

Founding countries not spared 

With the exception of Belgium and Luxembourg, the EU's founding members have also seen higher numbers of voters snubbing the European Parliament polls.

In France and The Netherlands, abstention reached around 60 percent in 2014, from 40 percent in 1979.

In Italy it was at 43 percent from 14 percent over the same period, and in

Germany it was at 50 percent from 34 percent.

The stayaway rates have nonetheless stabilised since 2004 in France and Germany.

This can be explained by an awareness among people “that the European Union is part of the problem and perhaps of the solution” of the various challenges facing Europe, Rozenberg said. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

EUROPEAN ELECTIONS

Down but not out: Macron eyes shakeup of European parliament

French President Emmanuel Macron tasted defeat in the European elections, but not disaster, and is set to continue pushing both his pro-EU agenda and a realignment of parties in the European Parliament.

Down but not out: Macron eyes shakeup of European parliament
Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party finished second behind the far-right National Rally (RN) of his arch-rival Marine Le Pen, but the two parties ended up with less than 1.0 percentage point separating them — on 22.41 percent and 23.31 percent respectively.
   
The vote was seen as a test for Macron domestically after months of anti-government “yellow vest” protests, while his credibility in Europe as a champion of deeper integration was also judged to be on the line.
   
“A disappointment, but not a defeat for the Elysee,” headlined Le Parisien newspaper on Monday, while an editorial in the Les Echos business daily said Macron's party was “resisting well” two years after his election.
   
Macron on Monday held a meeting of key figures from the LREM — including Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the head of its list for the EU polls Nathalie Loiseau — to discuss the “next steps”, a presidential source said.
 
READ ALSO:

EU election ANALYSIS: Cut the hysteria, Le Pen is not on her way to French presidencyPhoto: AFP

The 41-year-old's priority will now be trying to increase his influence in the European Parliament where LREM and its centrist allies will send 23 MEPs, the same number as Le Pen's RN.

His long-standing objective is to redraw the political map of the EU parliament, long dominated by the centre-right EPP grouping and the centre-left S&D — in the same way as he broke the stranglehold of France's traditional parties.
   
Macron's EU-level partners, who form the ALDE group, finished third in Sunday's polls, but the French leader is now aiming to broaden the coalition to include new partners, particularly Greens who made major gains.
   
“The group that we are going to join is going to be a swing group which will try to be a driver in the creation of a progressive alliance. Why not with the Greens?”, French government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye told BFM television on Monday.
   
She added that ALDE would be renamed.
   
On Monday night, Macron will hold talks in Paris with victorious Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez whose Socialist party is set to become the biggest member of the S&D grouping after topping polls in Spain.
   
“At the European level, the president is still manoeuvring to form a large progressive alliance, a force that will be essential in the new parliament,” an aide to the French leader told AFP on Sunday.
 
Tricky Greens?
 
But Macron's ambitions, like his broader agenda for new EU initiatives, are likely to face resistance and it is far from certain that he can repeat his feat of fracturing Europe's centre-right and centre-left parties, as he did in France.
   
In a sign of the difficulties in proposing a deal with the Greens, influential and outspoken Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts appeared to rule out an alliance on Sunday, saying that Macron “couldn't give a shit” about the environment.
   
Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens, delivered a caustic speech to Macron when he visited the European Parliament in April last year, saying he had betrayed France's values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
   
Some analysts see the ALDE grouping as increasing its influence in the new parliament, but as remaining a distinct group along with the Greens.
   
“Centrists and liberals are now strong enough to say to the EPP and S&D, you need to work with us and organise a four-way coalition,” Sebastien Maillard from the Jacques Delors Institute, a think-tank, told AFP.
 
By AFP's Adam Plowright
SHOW COMMENTS