With 109 blog posts to date in his series on the European Parliament elections 2009, Julien Frisch has done more than several professional organisations combined to inspire a pan-European debate on the upcoming greatest transnational poll ever, with 375 million potential voters.
Frisch’s latest post in the series, European Parliament elections 2009 (109): Looking back at 1999 and 2004, concluded that the core messages from 1999, 2004 and 2009 would not change much from the initial assessment:
“The campaign was focused on national topics, the candidates where not known, and the only true European references in the electoral manifestos where similar across all major parties: More democracy, more transparency, better connection to the citizens.”
According to Frisch, the only differences in 2009 “will be two additional countries, Libertas, and the emergence of large-scale internet campaigning. Maybe a glimpse at the institutional EP campaign, too. But the conclusions will be very close to those we got in the past.”
In other words, campaigns and elections European in name, but hardly in reality.
30 year perspective
Even in a longer, 30 year perspective, and with a scientific approach, the Europeanisation of the European elections seems to be a slow process indeed.
We turn to the journal Integration 2/09 (April 2009), published by IEP Institut für Europäische Politik, and the article written by Jürgen Mittag and Claudia Hülsken: Von Sekundärwahlen zu europäisierten Wahlen? 30 Jahre Direktwahlen zum Europäischen Parlament.
Since 1979, the European elections on 4 to 7 June 2009 are the seventh. The elections are still perceived as second-order elections by voters, apt to punish the domestic ruling parties, by political parties with short and less funded campaigns than in national elections and by media seldom bothering with European level challenges.
There is more continuity than change, but indirectly, the disparate results converge when the political groups are formed in the European Parliament.
(For assessments of the EP political groups, you could read for instance the following blog posts: European Parliament: Political groups run the show and European Parliament Political Groups.)
Why are the European elections only marginally European?
Despite slowly increasing powers for the European Parliament, voter participation has been declining. Some explanations for this paradox:
• Voters are not allowed to set the course for government of the European Union. The significance of minor shifts within the European Parliament is hardly enough to inspire voters.
• There is an almost total silence on the future organisation of Europe beyond the inadequate Lisbon Treaty.
• There is a lack of serious and open European level political debate on decisive and divisive issues, such as influence in world affairs, defence, taxation and budget, the borders of Europe, the Doha round, economic governance and financial regulation, environment and energy, the future of subsidies-driven agriculture, the internal market, economic reform and social rights. The real decisions are taken, within treaty limitations, by the European Council and Council formations.
• The heads of state or government (and national party leaders) have clearly shown that the EU is their union, not a union of citizens. They have revoked even the minimal concession they made to EU citizens to be able to influence the election of the President of the Commission in 2009.
• There is neither a single day for the European elections, nor a uniform election procedure.
• There is no statute for truly pan-European political parties.
• The European level parties and their political foundations have managed to secure considerable EP funding, but they have failed to field candidates for the Commission Presidency.
• The Europarties have produced uninspiring election manifestos, but their efforts to mobilise voters are feeble and sporadic.
• The Europarties’ foundations are nearly invisible in the debate.
• There are more PR campaigns for voter participation than political campaigns on issues.
• National political parties and media decline to educate voters on truly European challenges. Instead they campaign and report within their respective comfort zones, leaving voters drowsy and unimpressed.
The resulting low level of participation is but a symptom. The deeper problem is the low quality of participation, from head of state or government to the apathetic voter: the lack of European leadership and consciousness.