Parties need to base next year’s June European elections on real pan-European issues, and give each other “a big fight” to re-engage apathetic voters, Italian MEP Monica Frassoni, co-president of the Greens in Parliament told EURACTIV in an interview.
Frassoni claims that national governments and disinterested media are to blame for the falling turnout at European Parliament elections, noting that “there is a general problem of representative politics in Europe [and] in general there is a decrease in participation at all elections,” but that she believes “this is even stronger at the European level”.
According to Frassoni, part of the problem is that the EU is perceived as being too far-removed and too powerful for people to influence. And therefore, there is not really a consciousness that the Parliament is any different from the European Commission or the Council of Ministers because they are all perceived as one entity.
“People don’t realise that Parliament is a place where they can have an impact,” says Frassoni. “So the fact that the Parliament has more power won’t matter to voters until they realise the difference. I think the most important way to get people to vote is to help them understand that there is power to be shared.”
But Frassoni also criticised national governments, which she holds largely responsible for low voter turnout at European elections. “When people are told that national governments and parliaments do all the real work and all the bad things are done by Europe, then of course it’s not easy to motivate them to go to vote.”
Voting for a Commission President?
In order to re-engage voters, Frassoni would like to see next year’s campaign “discuss concrete issues, not in general but on concrete party political positions that are important to people.”
She also restated the Green’s radical idea of holding a truly pan-European election. “I would love to have fantastic campaigns with transnational lists for the European parties, with a candidate for European Commission President at the head of the list. We have to get nearer to that situation.”
While Frassoni conceded that this is unlikely to happen in 2009, she did stress the “possibility that the different parties – even without transnational lists – would campaign against each other proposing different candidates for Commission President. This would give a real political sense to the whole process, and make it less of a strictly national debate.”
She mentioned the Green Party’s 2004 pan-European campaign, when Greens at the national level had the option to use a common campaign “look” and messages. “I think the [national Green] parties that decided to use this European dimension for the 2004 elections really gained from it, for example the French and the Germans.” Frassoni had harsh words, however, for those who declined to adopt the common European campaign: “those who did not – like the Italians – made a mistake, I think it was a stupid thing to do.”
Jumping on the ‘green’ bandwagon
Frassoni also slammed other European parties for jumping on the ‘green’ bandwagon without backing up their rhetoric with real action. “The reality is that people are talking but their policies are not going far enough. When they talk about these issues, they propose policies that are “easier,” so in this way they’re stealing the consensus. The message is given that “yes, climate change is happening, but instead of doing what the Greens tell us to do, like reducing consumption, making different technology for cars or investing in renewables, we can instead reduce taxes on fuels, or make cars a little bit less polluting, or push the nuclear agenda.”
To read the interview in full, please click here.