The French government plans on saving tens of millions of euros by dropping the mass-mailings that are traditionally sent to voters ahead of elections, a measure which is creating unease because it targets only the European elections.
The 2014 European elections will be the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty, which sought to enhance the role of citizens as political actors in the EU.
The Lisbon Treaty also strengthens the powers of the European Parliament, consolidating its role as co-legislator and giving it additional responsibility: it elects the president of the Commission on the basis of a proposal by the European Council taking into account the results of the European elections (Article 17.7) of the Treaty on European Union.
The new plan by the budget and interior ministries has been criticised for showing a lack of respect for European matters, seven months ahead of the EU elections, in May 2014.
Smaller political parties have reacted strongly against the move, as they already enjoy much less media visibility and need the mass-mailing campaign for publicity and even to remind voters of their existence.
“We understand the reasoning, especially as several European countries have already cut the use of paper, but symbolically it’s not the right time,” conceded a governmental source, saying the measure should be applied to all elections, not just the European one.
In France, two weeks before each election, registered voters receive a mail containing a series leaflet presenting the candidates’ manifestos and the ballots that they will find at the polling stations. The objective is to introduce the candidates to the voters and give each party an equal chance at the election, no matter how small they are.
But in practice, the mail often ends up in the trash, argues the Interior Ministry, which wants to save money and replace the mass panflets sending with electronic mail.
However, the measure is creating unease as it would only affect the European elections, which are already widely disregarded by voters, and not the “sacrosanct” local elections that are taking place six weeks before.
In 2009, the participation rate at the European election stood at 40%, a 10% drop compared to the previous election in 2004. As a result, some argue that European elections might be completely forgotten in France. Manuel Valls, the interior minister, did not see a problem as his ambitions appear to be more national than European.
According to sources, the projected savings would not be minimal. When all costs are added up – postage, paper, envelopes - tens of millions of euros could be saved.
But the measure could also pose constitutional problems given that the internet’s penetration rate in France is only 83%, which would violate a founding principle of the Republic – equality.
Constance Le Grip, a French Member of the European Parliament affiliated to the opposition UMP party, denounced the government's savings plan, describing them as "penny-pinching" measures that would "downgrade the European elections".
"I protest strongly against this attempt to violate the right to political information, at a time when European issues are becoming increasingly vital for our country," Le Grip said in a statement.
François Sauvadet, from the centrist UDI party, said that “this electoral move is shocking and scandalous, by manipulating the information sent to the citizens, the consequence will be more abstention and higher scores for extremist parties. The Government and the Socialist Party, ballasted by a fiercely anti-European left, have lost their compass. To us in UDI, the European elections are an crucial moment for our country and for Europe and we will not accept that this debate be silenced”.
François Coq, secretary general of the Left Party: “This electoral mail is the only way to inform citizens equally of all programs. The Government intends to limit the information to the media sphere and the parties of the system. The Governments is betting on abstention and seeks to silence the voices that are louder than theirs”.
Michel Guiniot from the far-right Front National, considers that “this project would strengthen abstention at European elections. If the Interior Ministry wants to make more savings at the expense of democracy, we can suggest establishing another system of political organisation called dictatorship. The Front National is of course totally opposed to this project”.
- 25 Sept. 2013 : presentation of the new finance project
- 22-25 May 2014: European elections