21st Oct 2016

EU election turnout at record low after all

  • "This time is different" - the EP's slogan ahead of the EU vote (Photo:

The turnout for the European election in May fell to a record low, dealing a blow to claims by politicians - based on initial results - that a three-decade downward trend in voter participation had finally been halted.

The definitive turnout for the elections is 42.5 percent, down from 43 percent at the 2009 EU elections and down from the estimated 43.09 percent announced on 25 May, shortly after polls closed.

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The supposed upward spike, although small, was seized upon by several politicians as a highly symbolic break with the past where the percentage of those going to the polls continued to decrease as the parliament's legislative powers increased.

“The first good news of the night is that we have finally broken the downward trend of falling participation in European elections,” liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said on 25 May in Brussels.

“The European Parliament will be more representative than the previous one as average turnout across Europe is an improvement on 2009.”

Parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch at the time said the result, in view of the trend, was "historic".

The parliament quietly put the revised statistic on the EP website on 25 July, two months after the elections.

A spokesperson said the change was due to differences in estimated and final results in Spain and Italy. It took so long to get the final figure as counting methodology for invalid and blank votes had to be verified across all member states.

However, the parliament remained upbeat despite the revision.

"When you look at the final result and the figure that was estimated at the end of May - those two figures are very close. The final figure, which is a little bit lower than in 2009, confirms that the big descending tendency of previous years has been stopped," the spokesperson told this website.

Turnout has always been a sensitive issue for the assembly as it regularly positions itself as the most democratic of the EU institutions.

The election to the 751-seat parliament is seen as suffering from 'second order' syndrome where voters perceive the outcome as having little direct impact on their lives.

This has become an increasing embarrassment for the parliament which helps determine the shape of laws that affect almost every facet of citizens' lives from economic scrutiny of national budgets, to anti-pollution rules and consumer safety laws.

Additionally some had hoped that having EU commission-president candidates engage in TV debates and touring member states - a novelty for this year's vote - would help increase the numbers of those going to the polls.

While voter turnout did rise in some key countries - Germany (48.1%, up from 43.27% in 2009) and France (42.43%, up from 40.63% in 2009) - it fell in the majority, with Slovakia tailing at 13.05 percent.

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