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EUROPEAN ELECTIONS

‘Caveman’ candidate shocks world press

Spain's gaffe-prone Euro candidate Miguel Arias Cañete is making global headlines after he claimed he had gone soft on his socialist rival during a political debate because she was a "defenceless woman".

'Caveman' candidate shocks world press
Online newspaper El Diario published on Monday a list of Cañete’s top political gaffes, including other chauvinist comments he had previously made. Photo: George Gobet/AFP
Cañete, candidate for Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP) in the upcoming European elections, shocked Spaniards recently when he alleged he had gone easy on opposition PSOE Euro candidate Elena Valenciano because "it’s complicated to show intellectual superiority" and not come across as a "chauvinist for cornering a defenceless woman".
 
The comments made by Spain’s former Minister of Agriculture, Food and Environment largely overshadowed the debate itself but did neither him nor his party any favours, especially in light of the controversy the PP's draft abortion law has generated.
 
Now the gaffe had gone global leading UK newspapers The Guardian and The Financial Times running stories on Cañete’s gaffe, the latter under the headline "Old-school machismo inspires interest in modern Spanish politics".
 
German daily Die Welt used the title "The caveman and the superiority of men", in reference to how Cañete is being comically labelled in Spain’s social media.
 
Here are some of the funniest memes which have been uploaded to Twitter under the hashtag #homocañetus:
 
 
"Thanks for showing us your intellectual superiority, Cañete"
 
"Lunchtime: Spot the difference"
 
"Cañete's Gender Equality programme for Europe: The Good Housewife Guide"
 
With his reputation taking a battering, Cañete decided to make the most of his encounter with a group of women on a train on the very same day he made the contentious remarks on Spanish television.
 
The bachelorette party-goers agreed to a photo with him, not knowing he would post it soon after on Twitter, with an ensuing 1,200 retweets.
 
“You have no idea how much we regret it,” one of the women later told Spanish daily El Mundo.
 
Online newspaper El Diario published on Monday a list of Cañete’s top political gaffes, including his comment that "irrigation should be used with the same caution as women, otherwise it can be the end of one".
 
The PP politician has also previously argued immigrant waiters weren’t as good as Spanish ones, while he was also famously photographed eating yoghurt long past its use-by date to prove the dairy product had a longer shelf life than people said. 
 
Although Popular Party members have argued Cañete’s words should be taken with a pinch of salt, there are those who believe he may have "hurt the PP (in) the run-up to next week’s elections" with "his curious interpretation of political chivalry", as the FT’s Tobias Buck put it.
 
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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. 

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