- Title: VARIOUS: Polls point to low turnout in forthcoming EU elections
- Date: 4th June 2009
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (MAY 29, 2009) (REUTERS) INSIDE THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, EMPTY ASSEMBLY EMPTY SEATS FACING FRONT STAGE OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, EUROPEAN FLAGS HANGING OVER EMPTY DESKS BUTTONS USED BY MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT TO CAST THEIR VOTES EXTERIOR OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, PEOPLE PLAYING IN FRONT EXTERIOR EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT WITH RESIDENTIAL HOUSES IN FRONT EXTERIOR EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT SEEN BEHIND TREES
- Reuters ID: LVAAVIYA84K9KJV18S7CW4GBDWJ5
- Duration: 00:00:31
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: European Union
- Story Text: Voters in 27 countries choose a new European Parliament this week in an election likely to be marred by apathy and dominated by protest votes against national governments struggling to combat the global economic crisis.
Citizens from the European Union are to vote this week (June 4-7) to elect the 736 members of the European Parliament but opinion polls indicate few will actually do so.
More than 375 million people are eligible to take part in four days of voting across the European Union that starts in Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday (June 4). But an opinion poll conducted in the first two weeks of May suggested 49 percent of the eligible voters were likely to take part in the election and few understood the issues.
The European Parliament said it spent 18 millions euros in their campaign to try and convince EU citizens to go to the poll.
It produced a video clip with imaginary headlines like the closure of Europe's last nuclear power plant or the banning of all imports to safeguard European jobs. With no budget to buy TV advertisement space on TVs or in cinemas, the multilingual clip was broadcast on a voluntary basis.
To promote the elections, the EU-wide news channel Euronews also teamed up with Youtube to try to target a younger audience.
The website www.youtube/questionsforeurope.com invited people to post videos with questions for members of the European Parliament. Youtube said 86 videos had been posted in four weeks and the site received more than 11,000 hits. One of the problems however was the lack of response from the parliamentarians it was supposed to promote. Most of them were campaigning in their home countries and few took the time to answer the questions, leaving it up to Brussels-based policy experts.
There are many reasons why turnout has sunk from 62 percent at the first European Parliament election in 1979.
Few of the EU's 495 million citizens have much interest in the assembly or much knowledge of what it does, even though it shapes many pan-European laws, endorses the EU executive and budget, and will gain power under the EU's Lisbon reform treaty.
Jaume Duch-Guillot, the European Parliament Director for the Media, says although not all citizens were aware of the real power of the European Parliament the situation is much better than five or ten years ago when it started to get some real legislative power.
In addition, few voters understand the EU system under which parliament shares power with the Council of Ministers (EU leaders) and the Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.
Many voters feel no direct impact on their daily lives from an assembly that works in Brussels and the French city of Strasbourg.
In Sweden, 58% of the population said they are not interested in the EU elections and only 30% said they are likely to vote.
One man, Piotr Blasiak, said he didn't know enough about the elections and didn't intend to vote. He got some information in the post but it didn't seem very interesting.
In Poland, only 33% said they would definitely vote. On the streets of the capital Warsaw, pensioner Wladyslaw Klepa said he was disappointed by the European Union.
''I voted for the European Union because I thought that there will be some order in this country. But it's worse than before, the Union didn't help at all'', Klepa said not far from a sign indicating Brussels more than one thousands kilometers away.
Another voter said he was irritated by Polish politics and politicians "who only care about themselves and not the common man," and were now running for the European Parliament.
MEPs find it hard to get their message across because there are few pan-European media or political parties, and national parties have little interest in European elections.
The vote is also complicated by the fact that many of the candidates for the 736 seats are little known and campaign on local issues. Further complicating matters, the assembly's powers will change if the EU's Lisbon reform treaty is approved In the run up of the elections, European politicians have been trying to explain what is at stake in campaign rallies, on television and radio, and in webcasts and blogs.
So how to motivate voters ? President of the European Liberals Democrat Party, Annemie Neyts, said they had to repeat the same message over and over again and it was important to protect fundamental freedoms.
But everything points to a low turnout which could favour non-mainstream parties including nationalists and forces hostile to the EU such as the British National Party and the UK Independence Party.
Some governments could suffer a blow.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, facing an uproar over national parliamentarians' expenses, could come under more pressure for policy or personnel changes, or even to quit, if his Labour Party performs badly.
The vote in Germany will test the political waters before a federal election in September. In France, Sarkozy's governing UMP could face a rise in support for far-right parties.
The election also comes at a difficult time for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping for a resounding win to silence scandals about his love life and business dealings that threaten his credibility.
Governing parties in other countries, including Ireland and several EU member states in eastern Europe, are even more concerned as people vote on national issues, such as how governments have handled the economic crisis.
The EU eventually agreed on a fiscal stimulus package amounting to 5 percent of the bloc's economic output but its response to the crisis, and that of many national leaders, has been widely criticised as too little, too late.
CEO of Centre of Eurepean Policy Karel Lannoo said this may be why EU citizens believe the European Union can do little for them.
The new parliament's tasks will include helping shape -- and pass -- laws on anything from the environment to supervision of Europe's financial system to try to avert another credit crunch.
It will also have the final say in appointing the next president of the European Commission, the EU's executive and a powerful regulatory body, and its endorsement is also required for the entire Commission to take office.
First EU-wide results are expected after 2000 GMT on Sunday (June 7).
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