European vote

The Netherlands and Britain lead the dance of the European elections, with Ireland and the Czech Republic following today, the process continuing tomorrow and culminating on Sunday, when most EU member states, including Greece, will vote. This year, following EU enlargement, elections for the European Parliament have taken on a spectacular dimension, as 340 million voters from 25 countries go to the polls to choose 732 supranational deputies. But the impressive figures do not entail corresponding interest on the part of the public. Though its initially limited powers have been enhanced, the European Parliament still does not produce a government. As each country votes only for its own deputies, divided into groups based on the parties in each state, and not into supranational groups with a distinctly European platform, voters don’t feel this vote affects their lives. So abstentions are high (in 1999, 50 percent of those enrolled), while those who do turn out for the poll vote according to criteria that are irrelevant to EU issues. Fortunately, the first statistics from the Netherlands and Britain indicate a slight increase in participation. While some predictions estimate an average turnout of 52 percent, the most pessimistic see the figure falling as low as 45 percent. In Greece, where participation in the vote is traditionally high even after administrative measures against those who abstain were abolished, there are fears that this Sunday will show a significant decrease. This is not solely because of the feeling that the vote has no direct effect on things, but also because the campaign was run on the pretext of local issues, far from any serious discussion of European issues, the future of the EU and the dramatic challenges it faces. For the most part, the the parties’ views ran on parallel lines, unrelated to Europe, giving the impression that the parties themselves see these elections as a process that has little to do with them, given that the supposedly serious matters were settled by the national elections in March. And yet, even if the European Parliament is relatively weak, even if our vote selects very few deputies, even if we are tied to the list of candidates selected by party leaders, the European Parliament is still the only elected body in the EU and the elections are the the most vital symbol of our participation in the shaping of Europe, which is our business and our hope. On Sunday voters most overcome the lack of quality shown by our political parties; Greeks must be present at the vote. Abstention is not a solution.