It is less than one year till the next European elections taking place in May 2014. The turnout in the last elections (43%) was not very satisfactory, in some member states it was really low (around one quarter of the voters). It has been dropping since the first general elections in 1979. European institutions are already thinking about how to mobilize citizens to vote. The latest Eurobarometer’s results show that it will be an enormous task. People in the EU do not believe they have anything to say in Europe and many of them are not aware that they are the ones who chose their representatives to the European Parliament.
According to the latest Eurobarometer, more than two-thirds of Europeans say that their voice does not count in the EU (67%), which is a big increase compared to its level from 2004 when the question was first asked. This proportion has been growing almost stadely since spring 2009, reflecting the effects of the financial crisis. Only slightly more than a quarter of respondents (28%) agree that their voice counts in the EU.
Source: Standard Eurobarometer 79
The skepticism regarding the importance of their voice can be noticed especially in the countries where the crisis has most negatively influenced every-day life such as in Greece (89%) and Cyprus (89%), but also in Portugal (81%), Italy (78%) and Spain (77%).
This negative perception towards one’s own importance can influence one’s willingness to take part in the elections in May. Even though nine in ten European citizens have heard of the European Parliament and this proportion has remained steady over time, the motivation to go and vote cannot be expected to be high. The atmosphere is quite negative throughout Europe. Less than one third of Europeans trust the EU and the number of those for whom the EU conjures up a positive image is at a similar level (30%) to those for whom it is negative (29%). Such feelings do not bode well for voter turnout.
Even more worrisome are the answers to the question “who elect the members of the European Parliament?”. Although an outright majority of Europeans know that the members of the European Parliament are directly elected by the citizens of each Member State (52%, unchanged since autumn 2012), there is still a (too) high number of those voters who are not aware of their rights.
Source: Standard Eurobarometer 79
Much depends in this case on the formulation of the question asked. In Eurobarometer the respondent must agree or disagree with the statement that the members of the EP are directly elected by the citizens. When asked this way nearly three quarter Polish respondents are sure that they are the ones who vote for the future MEPs. When the question lets the respondents decide who choses these members the answers can be different, as illustrated in past surveys conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs. In April 2009, two months before the European elections, only 52% of adult Poles knew that the MEPs are elected by the citizens. When answering the question “Who elect the MEPs?” they could choose from a list including: citizens, members of the national parliament from their peers, the government and the president. When asked this way one fifth claimed the national parliamentarians are responsible and one fifth did not give any answer. There was little improvement two months after the elections when in August 2009 only 57% of respondents (potential voters from June 2009) responded that the citizens are responsible for sending their representatives to the EP. And when people are not aware that they have an obligation, there is rather small chance that they will fulfill it.
If we do not want to see this situation again, we should take serious steps. It should be a common goal, not only for European and national institutions as well as non-governmental organisations, but also for the media, to inform and mobilize voters.
The quoted results comes from the Standard Eurobarometer 79
This text is a part of a common project of the Institute of Public Affairs and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Warsaw: “How to get young people in Poland interested in the European elections?”