Voter turnout in European elections 2004 has followed the downward trend experienced since 1979. Participation was the highest in the first European election year with 63 per cent but has decreased since, generally by 2-3 per cent. The greatest drop in voter turnout of seven per cent took place between 1994 and 1999, when voter turnout decreased from 56.8 to 49.8 per cent.
The decrease is smaller if we only consider participation in the EU-15, which stands at 47.1 per cent in 2004. Spain is the Member State where participation decreased by the largest percentage (17.1 per cent) in comparison with 1999. Voter turnout in the old Member States was the highest in Belgium and Luxembourg.
The figures suggest that the EP elections have triggered significantly less interest in the new Member States than in the EU-25. Participation was the lowest in Slovakia with 16.96 per cent. The voter turnout was highest in Malta with 82 per cent.
The European elec tions in 2004 were fought largely on national issues and resulted in the lowest turnout in the history of the European elections, suggesting an increasing distance between Brussels and the national capitals. The strikingly low levels of interest in the Central and Eastern European new members appears to demonstrate that the information campaigns put into place prior to the referenda on EU accession was insufficient and needs to be followed up. This raises the question as to whether turnout figures could put these countries into a weak negotiating position in future negotiations on the new EU budget.