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15th Oct 2018

EU elections could usher in nationalist and anti-EU radicals

  • The next elections will be held between 22 and 25 May next year (Photo: Luc Mercelis)

The 2014 European Parliament election may suffer from a low turnout and see a strong mobilisation of voters in favour of radical nationalist and anti-EU parties, Gallup Europe predicts on the basis of a new survey.

The elections could result in a drastic change in the landscape of European democracy, the pollster said when “EU Election 2014 countdown: One year to go” in Brussels on Wednesday (5 June).

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The survey covers six, mainly northern, European member states: Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK. None of the bail-out countries or crisis-hit southern European countries, such as Spain and Italy, was included.

But even in the relatively better-off northern European member states, the EU is perceived by the public "more and more as an external threat and not as the common European institution defending their interests," Gallup found.

"Instead of seeing EU as part of the solution, more and more people around in the European Union see it as part of the problem," Managing Director of Gallup Europe Robert Manchin said at the presentation of the survey.

French doubts

The survey shows that the unease is widespread, including among those countries traditionally considered at the heart of the EU project, such as France.

A majority of French (62%) think that things are going in the wrong direction in the EU, and less than 1 in five (17%) think they are going in the right direction.

The French were the most critical of their own leadership in the EU (51%). Despite regular protests in Europe, the situation is better for Germany. In all countries surveyed, a majority approved Germany’s leadership. The highest rate of approval was in Germany itself (54%) and the lowest in the UK (36%).

But even inside Germany, support for the European Union is volatile. If a referendum was held next week on whether Germany should leave the EU, just half of Germans say they would vote to stay (49%) while one in three (31%) say they would vote to leave.

Right-leaning voters in Germany are in general more hostile to the EU than left-leaning voters, indicating how Chancellor Angela Merkel could get challenged by the new eurosceptic Alternative for Germany.

The changes are not expected to be so drastic that the current leadership of the European Parliament (the centre-right and centre-left are currently the two biggest factions) is at stake.

"They will still rule. The question is who will be their candidates and what will be their line. Being a non-partisan citizen, I just hope that they would listen", Robert Manchin said.

Low turnout

Despite plans for political parties to nominate a candidate for European Commission President in the next European elections, there may once again be a low turnout.

The turnout has been declining since constituencies elected directly the European Parliament for the first time in 1979, and hit its lowest point (43%) in 2009.

The best showing in next year's election can be expected in Denmark, where 78 percent say they would go and vote if the election were next week. In Poland, by contrast, 63 percent said they would not bother to go to the urns.

A year before the actual elections, this says less about the turnout to be expected next year, and more about the electorate’s current level of concern. If sustained, however, it could mobilize voters, Gallup concludes.

Meanwhile nationality seems to matter, when it comes to election a president of the European Commission.

Gallup’s findings show that a Romanian candidate would be an issue for a relative majority of voters in Denmark (13%), France (10%) and Germany (12%). An equal share of German voters would oppose a candidate from Greece.

In the Netherlands, a relative majority would abstain from voting for a party if the candidate was Bulgarian (15%). Meanwhile, a majority of Britons said that if the suggested candidate was British, they would not vote for the political party concerned (13%). The same was true in Poland (13%) and the Netherlands regarding a candidate from their own country (15%).

In none of the countries surveyed would a Luxembourgish, Finnish, Belgian or Swedish candidate face such opposition.

EU exit - UK only

When asked how they would vote if a referendum were held next week on whether their country should leave the European Union, it was only in the UK that a majority said they would vote to leave the EU (55%).

The Netherlands is split: 39 percent would vote to leave the EU and 39 percent would vote to stay. In the other states covered in the survey, a majority of respondents say they would vote to remain in the EU.

The survey was conducted in May 2013 among 1,500 individuals in each of the six countries.

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