Turnout in EU elections 'at a new low'

A record low 43 percent of 375 million eligible voters cast ballots in European elections, a dismal result that could dent the credibility of the European Parliament, according to estimates last night.

Pollster TNS-Opinion's estimate said just over 161 million people participated.

Margot Wallstrom, the EU commissioner in charge of raising public awareness of the EU, called the low turnout "a bad result," adding it showed the need to work to change the perception that the European Union is detached from its citizens.

She said governments must make Europe a bigger factor in domestic politics to combat voter apathy and ignorance at a time when the 736-member EU legislature is exerting more influence and power over how the 27-nation bloc is run. The legislature has powers to vote on or amend two-thirds of all EU laws.

"It doesn't help to run European election campaigns on national agendas," Wallstrom said. "We have a number of lessons to learn, for the (EU) institutions and for the member states ... to connect better to the citizens."

The EU is hobbled by an enduring phenomenon: While European governments and mainstream politicians tend to take a European perspective, voters think and choose nationally.

The low voter turnout, and victories for fringe parties wanting to reduce the powers and size of the EU, underscored how unsuccessful the EU has been in making itself relevant in the eyes of the European electorate.

The first signs that the general public views the EU as an aloof project became evident in 2005 when French and Dutch voters rejected a European constitution. That charter has since been watered-down to a reform treaty which was rejected in a 2008 referendum in Ireland. The Irish will stage a second referendum in the fall.