Tuesday

26th Oct 2021

Gloves come off in EU election campaigns

  • The political fighting is getting dirty (Photo: Wikipedia)

EU election campaigning is beginning to get ugly, with legal challenges over media abuses launched in France and Italy and personal attacks on senior political figures in Austria and Spain.

The Italian Radical Party - affiliated with the liberal group in the EU legislature - has asked the OSCE for an "immediate inquiry" into alleged violations of media freedom in the EU campaign.

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The Radicals say voters are badly informed about their options, with only 3 percent of Italians aware about which parties are running and with candidates allegedly forced to pay for access to TV shows.

The Radicals note that international watchdog Freedom House has degraded Italy from "free" to "partially free" in the area of press. Italian centre-right prime minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi is also being linked to a corporate lawyer accused of bribery and perjury.

The French audiovisual media regulator is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday (20 May) to study a Socialist complaint that the governing UMP party's campaign video is "propaganda," Le Figaro reports.

Socialist spokesman Benoit Hamon has also accused centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy of "lying" about his stance on Turkey's EU entry. Mr Sarkozy claims he is opposed to Turkey's EU membership, but "systematically agrees on continuing the [EU] accession process" in Brussels, Mr Hamon said in Le Monde.

The Slovak Christian Democrats (KDH) have come under attack for using images of current EU education commissioner Jan Figel on billboards, even though he is not formally part of the campaign.

"I have been a member of the KDH party since it was founded in 1990 so I find it just logical to express my political identity and support my party," Mr Figel - a popular figure involved in Slovakia's EU entry negotiations - told Slovak Radio.

Spanish MEP Jaime Mayor Oreja, who tops the centre-right voting list in the country, has been forced to defend his work rate, saying he spends his time in Brussels crafting his party's internal strategy. According to registers, the deputy has not spoken in an EU plenary session since November 2007.

Swedish Radio reported that 8 percent of the total 366 Swedish candidates in the running did not vote in one or more previous EU elections. Olof Sallstrom, heading the hard-right Swedish Democrats list, did not vote in the past three polls.

In Austria, independent MEP Hans-Peter Martin is involved in a shrill dispute with ex-chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, after a book by Mr Martin accused the socialist politician of improper stock market speculation. Mr Gusenbauer's lawyers say a temporary court order has been issued to ban the book.

Mr Martin's pro-transparency campaign has also prompted MEP Hannes Swoboda, who tops the Socialist list, to publish details of his expenses - such as assistants' salaries, flights and other costs – as well as his contacts with lobbyists on his homepage from July onwards.

Bulgarian campaign goes online

Bulgarian MEPs have also begun campaigning online, suddenly updating blogs and Facebook pages, daily Dnevnik reports.

Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev will on Wednesday present to young Socialists his personal webpage containing information on pets, personal interests and hobbies, as well as favourite books and songs (the Beatles' "When I'm 64"). In the few days since he started a Facebook page, Mr Stanishev has made more than 200 "friends."

In Denmark, social democrat MEP Britta Thomsen has called on the EU to secure free internet access for all EU citizens and to provide a free computer to all school children. "We face a huge challenge of e-illiteracy," she said, Berlingske Tidende reports.

Fears or low turnout abound in Germany and Poland despite the increase in digitally-creative campaigning, however.

A GfK Polonia survey for Polish daily Rzeczpospolita says 60 percent of Poles have declared they will vote. But experts predict that the real turnout could be a slow as 20 or 30 percent.

Just 43 percent of Germans went to the ballot box in 2004, down almost two thirds on 1979, the year of the first direct elections to the EU assembly, German papers note. Newspapers do not offer solutions, saying that while media such as YouTube may reach potential new voters it may not be enough to get them to the urns.

NGOs join the fray

Europe-wide NGO, the European Coalition for Israel, on Wednesday launched a website called prayandvote2009.com. The platform is designed to get judaeo-christians to cast ballots amid fears that voters for far-right parties will turn out in force.

"If we don't vote someone else will vote in our place," the ECI said in its statement.

Brussels based-NGO the Disability Forum has put out an internet film encouraging the EU's 50 million or so disabled people to make it to the urns.

Meanwhile, human-rights NGO Amnesty International is seeking to exploit election momentum to combat female genital mutilation. The charity is asking MEP candidates to sign a declaration promising to fight the practice if they get into parliament, with 85 names already on the list.

Czech Greens off to strong start

The CzechGreen party on Tuesday kicked-off its EU campaign despite the turnout gloom. Green parties in eastern Europe have seldom done well, but in 2006, the Czech Greens won six seats in the national parliament, not only the first time a Green party had entered parliament in the Czech Republic, but in any of the former Soviet bloc countries.

The party has attracted the support of Czech anti-Communist hero Vaclav Havel and aristocratic ex-foreign minister Karl Schwarzenberg. Mr Havel criticised the mainstream right and left-wing parties for putting economic growth and jobs ahead of the planet's welfare.

Safeguarding jobs for auto-workers is "as if someone said that concentration camps must exist because the camp guards and commanders need work. It is necessary to ask about the sense, whether we need more and more cars," he said.

Rebecca Harms, head of the list for the German Greens, reminded citizens that their vote has consequences. "Voters should be clear that the European election is now a question of direction," she told the DPA news agency, noting that the main issue is whether the free market remains the "goal above all others."

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