Stephen Castle: EU is too young and weak to shrug off an electorate's apathy

Share
Related Topics

In 1999, when turnout dipped below 50 per cent for the first time in Europe-wide elections, some officials in Brussels thought they had seen voter apathy at its most extreme. Now they know better.

In 1999, when turnout dipped below 50 per cent for the first time in Europe-wide elections, some officials in Brussels thought they had seen voter apathy at its most extreme. Now they know better.

Just two months after the EU celebrated the historic reunification of the continent by admitting 10 new, mainly ex-Communist countries, it has received a sobering message from its public.

Well under half of the 350 million eligible voterscast a ballot during the four days of elections across the continent, producing a new record low turnout. And of those that did, an increased number backed Eurosceptics.

True, this electoral contest is hardly unique in seeing a drop in voter participation. Most national elections have followed a similar trend and, as MEPs point out, no one questions the legitimacy of democracy in America when less than half the population turns out to vote.

But for a young institution which has gained a wide array of powers without connecting properly to its population, the result is deeply damaging.

The year after they turned out to vote in referendums on whether to join the EU, an alarming number of voters in the new nations decided to stay at home. In Slovakia barely one-fifth of those entitled to vote did so - hitting a new low point - with only slightly more Poles bothering.

Ironically, the results do little to the overall arithmetic of the European Parliament. Early projections suggest that the centre-right bloc will remain the largest with between 247 and 277 MEP, followed by the socialists with 189 to 209, and the Liberals scoring between 54 and 70. Those figures will almost certainly change with the Liberals taking some MEPs from the centre-right because of an internal shift of alliances.

Yet beneath this picture of continuity an earthquake has taken place. Of the 732 MEPs elected to the Strasbourg assembly, maybe one tenth will be hostile to the EU in its current form. And - for the first time - there will be a significant number who hate the whole enterprise so much they want to take their country out of the EU.

Meanwhile, the existing centre-right groups may well shift in a Eurosceptic direction to try to see off the affect from their rivals. Among the reduced British Conservative MEP contingent, for example, the balance will change, with some of the pro-Europeans losing their seats.

In one respect this could, perversely, be a good moment for the European Parliament. The new intake is likely to be more lively than the old one, complete with mavericks like Robert Kilroy-Silk, the British former daytime TV presenter, and Hans-Peter Martin, the MEP who used a video camera to expose the shenanigans of his colleagues in claiming their generous allowances.

Moreover, the injection of more Eurosceptics will bring the political centre of gravity of the parliament closer to that of the European public opinion.

Pat Cox, outgoing president of the parliament, argued last night that, for Britain, "there may be a silver lining in the UKIP results because they have a very clear and strident view about what they want to see. The others have to realise that you cannot be slightly pregnant in being for Europe. Those who believe in it have to deliver and stop hanging back."

Indeed, a proper debate within the EU's only directly-elected institution can only be for the good. The question is whether this diverse band of Eurosceptics will play that role and exploit their new position of influence.

During the past five years, UKIP's three MEPs have made almost no impact on the parliament, and Mr Kilroy-Silk said during the election campaign that he does not intend to go to Strasbourg.

As one official put it last night, "There is going to be a large proportion of the new parliament that are not going to do anything very much at all. The Eurosceptics are, because of their divisions, going to be neutered." That, paradoxically, would be more bad news for the European Parliament.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living