• Young people outside the European Parliament on Sunday (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Post EU Elections

EU turnout nearly unchanged from 2009

25.05.14 @ 23:56

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - A 0.09 percent increase in the turnout compared to the last EU elections has been celebrated as 'historic', but some experts see a link to the strong anti-establishment vote in many countries.

The 43.09 percent figure was presented as 'historic' on Sunday night (25 May) by the European Parliament's spokesman, Jaume Duch, given that turnout has been on a continuous decline since 1979 when the first elections were held.

The leaders of the Socialist and the Liberal groups in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda and Guy Verhofstadt also welcomed the reverse in the trend and said that an even bigger leap could be achieved next time, if people could vote directly for the EU commission president.

The novelty of this year's elections, the so-called Spitzenkandidaten – top candidates put forward by the main political groups for the chairmanship of the European Commission – was designed to boost turnout.

Verhofstadt, himself a Spitzenkandidat, saw a direct link between the top candidates and the slight rise in turnout.

But Karel Lannoo, an expert with the Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels-based think tank, disagrees.

"It's true that the expectations were for the turnout to be lower, at around 39 percent. But this is no 'historic reversal of a trend', it's preserving the status quo," he told this website.

Lannoo also dismissed the link with the Spitzenkandidaten. "If turnout increased substantially you could say it had an impact."

Rather, he noted that turnout was high in the countries where the anti-establishment vote was strong: France, where the far right National Front scooped most votes; the UK, where the anti-EU UKIP came in first; and Germany, where the newly founded anti-euro Alternative fuer Deutschland Party scored 7 percent, more than expected.

A look at the breakdown of countries' data shows that eleven EU states had a turnout increase compared to 2009: Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the UK. The highest increase was in Greece – from 52.61 percent in 2009 to 57.4 this year. Germany went up by 4.6 percent and France too, by 3.4 percent.

At the other end, Slovakia had a turnout of just 13 percent, compared to slightly under 20 percent in 2009. Czech voters also preferred to stay at home: 19.5 percent of the electorate went to the polling stations, compared to over 28 percent five years ago.