Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

EUobserved

Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'

  • Frans Timmermans's Labour party won the EU elections in the Netherlands, according to exit polls - but don't tell the Dutch (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Frans Timmermans has been the European commissioner responsible in the past five years for the portfolio "better regulation", which includes getting rid of outdated EU rules.

And if you want an example of an outdated rule, look no further than the embargo on election results for the European Parliament.

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The vote for 751 new MEPs, across 28 member states, is spread out over four days.

The Netherlands and the UK were the first to vote on Thursday (23 May), but they are not allowed to publish the official results until all polls across the continent have closed, by Sunday at 11PM.

The idea is that the outcome of the vote in one EU country should not influence voting behaviour of citizens in other EU countries.

The UK strictly adheres to the ban.

But despite the ban, EU citizens following European politics already know the outcome of the Dutch vote ahead of Sunday.

On Thursday evening at 9PM, pollster Ipsos published an exit poll, which predicted that Timmermans' centre-left Labour party had come out as the largest party.

Additionally, some 700 volunteers reported the actual voting results from polling stations - which are by law required to be read out loud and open to public.

Dutch blog GeenStijl aggregated the results from the polling stations to provide its own estimate of the outcome.

Both said Labour had clearly won, with the GeenStijl poll predicting it six seats, and the Ipsos poll five. Ipsos has said there was a margin of one seat.

In Brussels on Friday, Mina Andreeva, spokeswoman of the European Commission, tried to maintain the fiction that no EU citizen yet knows the results of the European parliament elections in the Netherlands.

"Member states should ensure that no results of the European Parliament elections are officially published before the close of the poll in all member states," she said.

"This does not concern the publication by the media of exit polls or other survey results," she added.

But in the 21st century age of the internet, there is something flawed in the logic of the rules.

There are two options: either the result of one country's voting behaviour influences that of other EU citizens, or it does not.

There is the possibility that the Dutch exit polls do not change how EU citizens will vote at all.

There is evidence for that, because many voters in EU parliament elections often vote with national politicians or issues on their mind.

Outdated rule

In that case, it is an outdated rule that should be modernised.

The other option is that the official results would indeed influence how other citizens voted.

But if the outcome of the Dutch vote is reason for EU citizens to change their mind and vote differently, than the exit polls published in the Netherlands will also do that.

In fact, the same Timmermans who is deputy head of the EU commission is also the Socialists & Democrats' candidate to become the president of the commission - and was already using those exit polls in his campaign on Friday.

Timmermans is not pretending his party did not win the elections in his home state.

He addressed Dutch voters from Barcelona, where he was campaigning for Spanish socialists, in a video he posted on his Twitter page.

He thanked Dutch voters for their support, saying that "friendliness" had won, and that this was a "beautiful signal". Indeed he literally said it had been "noticed in all of Europe":

"It is a signal that has been noticed in all of Europe. Optimism has won, not pessimism," he said.

The Dutchman also retweeted a message from Italian centre-left Nicola Zingaretti, the secretary of the Democratic Party, who said that Labour was "in the lead" in the Netherlands.

In addition, there is still a chance that the exit polls are not completely correct.

Perhaps Timmermans did not do as well as predicted. If that is the case, then he will have had an undeserved boost in popularity, that is only corrected when it is too late.

If citizens do indeed base their vote on the outcome in other countries, would it not be better that they do so on the most correct information, i.e. the actual outcome?

Commission spokeswoman Andreeva did not get into that.

"The rules are what they are. They do not concern the publication of the media by the media of exit polls or other survey results," she said.

"European voters are free to decide for whom they are going to cast their vote in this biggest transnational election in the world," she added.

"We are confident that they will do so on the basis of all the facts that they have. I don't have any other comment to make on this," she said.

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