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24th Oct 2021

European elections marked by record low turnout

The turnout in the 2009 European elections was the lowest ever since direct elections for the house started thirty years ago, with Slovakia getting the lowest score for the second time in a row.

The 4-7 June election saw 43 percent of the 375 million Europeans entitled to vote go to the polls, according to preliminary results published on Monday afternoon (8 June) by TNS Sofres for the European Parliament.

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  • Less and less Europeans have been voting through the years (Photo: European Parliament/Bruno Amsellem)

This result is more than two points lower than in 2004, which was then the lowest in the parliament's history at 45.5%.

Besides Belgium and Luxembourg where voting is compulsory and turnout is traditionally around 90 percent, the figures were highest in Malta, where almost 79 percent of the citizens cast their vote.

Other countries where a majority of people voted included Italy (66.5%), Denmark (59.5%), Cyprus (59.4%), Greece (52.6%), and Latvia (52.6%).

By contrast, only 19.6 of Slovaks voted on Saturday. In the country's first EU election in 2004, it registered the lowest ever score in the bloc's history at 17 percent.

Lithuania came second with 20.9 percent – a dramatic drop compared to its first election in 2004, when almost half of Lithuanians voted (48.4%).

Some 24.5 percent voted in Poland and 28.2 percent in the Czech Republic and in Slovenia.

The bloc's newest members, Bulgaria and Romania, showed opposing trends, with Bulgarians demonstrating more voting enthusiasm (37.5% - up from 29% in the country's first elections in 2007) than their northern neighbours (27.4% - down from 29.5% in 2007).

'Don't know why' it was so low

Speaking at a press conference after the announcement of the results, the leaders of the European Parliament's main parties said they were concerned about the low turnout and that it did raise a number of questions.

"I don't know why [the turnout is so low] and we need to study why people don't go out and vote," Liberal leader Graham Watson said.

According to Mr Watson, citizens' will to vote would increase if they saw a stronger link between their vote and EU decision-making, namely if the European Commission president were appointed from the ranks of the European Parliament, or a certain percentage of MEPs were elected from pan-European lists.

For Socialist leader Martin Schulz, the low turnout shows that "the vote doesn't have much to do with European policy."

"There's a trend towards the re-nationalisation of Europe," Mr Schulz said, adding that the issue could eventually raise the question of the legitimacy of the elections.

The parliament's outgoing president Hans-Gert Poettering from the conservative EPP-ED faction said: "We have to increase turnout if we can," but said this does not mean going back to the old system where MEPs were appointed by national parliaments.

For his part, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso called on national politicians to introduce more a more European angle to their politics.

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