EU turnout to hit record low, poll says

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The Independent Online

The EU is heading for a record-low turnout in the Euro elections next month, according to a survey that says that less than half the voting population of the 25 countries will go to the polls.

A survey by Gallup predicts a 45 per cent participation rate across the bloc, a result that would deliver a damning verdict on the EU's ability to connect with its population of 450 million.

Such a low turnout would deal a blow to the legitimacy of the 732 MEPs who will be elected between 10 June and 13 June. Yesterday the European Parliament's outgoing president, Pat Cox, described the opinion poll as "wake-up call". He appealed to voters to participate in "your ownership of your Europe". The figures also indicate that the UK may not prove to be the most apathetic country in the enlarged EU. In 1999, just 24 per cent of British voters took part - this year the Euro elections will take place on the same day as local elections in much of the UK, which should boost turnout.

According to the Gallup poll, 32 per cent of Britons say they are certain to take part, as opposed to 31 per cent of Swedes, 27 per cent of Slovakians, 26 per cent of Estonians and one in five Czechs. 76 per cent of Belgians are promising to go to the polls.

Optimists point out that, if those who say they are "virtually certain" to vote are counted, overall participation could exceed the 50 per cent mark.

Nevertheless, voter turnout has slumped from 63 per cent in 1979, when elections to the European Parliament were introduced, to 49 per cent in 1999. MEPs have gained legislative powers from successive EU treaties but they have failed to make a wider political impact in most member states.