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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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EU ELECTIONS

Why does Spain now have five unpaid ‘reservist’ MEPs?

At the most recent European elections, Spain elected 54 new members of the European Parliament, plus five who will be on the bench for the next few months.

Why does Spain now have five unpaid 'reservist' MEPs?
The European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Photo: AFP

Why does Spain have reservist MEPs? 

Normally it doesn't. In previous years, Spain has elected 54 people to the European Parliament. This time it's different and it's the United Kingdom's fault.

READ ALSO:


The European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Photo: AFP

Is this Brexit related?

Afraid so. When the UK announced that it wanted to leave the EU, one of the (many) things that was affected was the composition of the European Parliament. Once it was not a member state, the UK would obviously lose all of its 73 MEPs.

The European Parliament decided that most of these seats would simply be scrapped and the parliament would be streamlined from 751 members down to 705.

However the remaining 27 seats would be redistributed among countries that had been left underrepresented – including Spain, which is in line to get five new members.

Seats in the parliament are allocated based on population numbers, and some countries that have seen demographic changes have been left underrepresented. Spain is one of these along with Denmark (which gets one extra), Estonia (one), Ireland (two), France (five), Croatia (one) Italy (three), the Netherlands (three) Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden (which all get one apiece).  

So this comes into effect now?

No. It was supposed to, because the UK was supposed to be gone by March 29th, but for reasons we won't go into here, that has not happened and in fact the UK took part in the European elections on May 26th and sent back 73 MEPs.

This means that the countries that were supposed to be getting extra members have had to create a “reserve list”.

In Spain,  the five new MEPs-in-waiting have been selected from the lists in the usual way, and informed that they have won a seat, but until the UK leaves they will not take up their seats and will not be paid.


The number of seats won by PSOE, PP, Ciudadanos, Podemos, Vox, AHORA REPÚBLICAS, JuntsxC, CEUS. DATA: Ministry of Interior. 

According to the results, one seat each will be given to PSOE, PP, Ciudadanos, Vox and the Catalan nationalist party JxC. Podemos missed out on adding another MEP to the six it won.

 

Those MEPs currently in the waiting room are Estrella Dura Ferrandis (PSOE), Gabriel Mato Adrover (PP),  Adrián Vázquez Lázara (Ciudadanos), Margarita de la Pisa Larrión (VOX) and Clara Ponsatí for the JxC.

The last name may be familiar as the number three on the list in Carles Puigdemont's party. Ponsati has charges pending in Spain for her role in the Catalan independence movement and is currently in exile in Scotland.

All five will be called upon to take their seats as MEPs once the UK leaves.

And when will that be?

Only a fool would predict that. The current leaving date deadline is October 31st, but the UK has had two previous deadlines that were extended, so who knows?

 

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