Slightly higher election turnout averted a ‘big disaster’
Against all odds, Europeans have averted yet another decline in voter turnout in the European Parliament elections, which remained stable at 43.1%.
“For the first time, it is going up and not going down as we have seen in the last 30 years,” said Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt after the provisional figures were released.
Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the centre-left group, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), added that the forecasted big disaster did not happen.
Turnout is seen as a critical test for European democracy, and it has fallen steadily and consistently since 1979, from 62% in the first election in 1979 to 43% in the 2009 election.
“We have finally broken the downward trend of falling participation in European elections. The eighth legislature of the European Parliament will be more representative than the previous one as average turnout across Europe is an improvement on 2009,” said Verhofstadt.
“Although there are some disappointingly low participation rates in several countries, higher than average participation in the larger member states has ensured a higher overall figure. This is all the more remarkable given the severity of the financial crisis that will have led many voters to stay at home or register their abstention.”
The countries that suffered the most from the crisis turned up to the polls in force, with Greece hitting 57.4%, Ireland 51% and Italy 60%. Slovakia posted the lower score with only 13% of voters turning up.
Four EU countries have a compulsory voting law for the European Parliament elections; Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece and Cyprus. While Belgium and Luxembourg show a turnout of 90%, the figure is still low in the two other countries.
An overview of the member states showed voter turnout went up the most in Lithuania (16.3%) and in Romania (7%).
In Latvia, the voter turnout dropped significantly. The number of Latvian citizens who cast their votes dropped by as much as 23.7%. In Cyprus, it dropped by 17 percentage points; and in the Czech Republic by 8.7 percentage points.
Thank you ‘Spitzenkandidaten’
From the left and right of the political spectrum, politicians hailed the candidates for European Commission president, for pushing the numbers up.
“The Spitzenkandidaten, have been crisscrossing Europe for the past few months, raising awareness of the forthcoming election and openly debating their policy differences for Europe’s future," LSE professor and chairman of the transparency organisation VoteWatch, Simon Hix, told EurActiv on Sunday night. "This proves the validity of the experiment to personalise the campaigns and focus them on European issues rather than allow national parties to turn the elections for the European Parliament into a referendum on domestic issues.”
"The campaign has actually taken on a life of its own," Hix added. "Schulz in particular has turned this into a proper election campaign."
European Parliament spokesperson, Jaume Duch, announcing the result on Sunday evening:
An important factor in the eighth European elections was how many European citizens participated. Turnout for the European elections fell by almost 19 points between 1979 and 2009, from 61.99% to 43%.
Trust in the EU has also hit low records in the past years, as has trust in national politics. The European Parliament has conducted a large-scale attempt to boost turnout in the 2014 elections, investing in a social media campaign.
The single candidates for the position of the EU Commission President was part of this attempt to spur voters' interest.