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Europe

Voter Apathy Could Mar Euro Elections

Disillusionment, hidden agendas and national bickering could have a severe effect on the voter turnout in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections with polls indicating on 45 percent of citizens will vote next week.

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All those who care about the European Parliamentary elections, please raise your hand.

The European elections are rapidly approaching but initial expectations on voter turnout indicate that many of the 349 million people who will be eligible to vote in the 25 countries of the European Union between June 10 and 13 have little idea what the issues are and are apathetic to the whole process.

It appears that some of the constituents know very little about the European parliament and those who do profess not to care much about it - even though the decisions it takes affect every voter's daily life. In the last election in 1999, voter turn out was less than 50 percent on average across the whole bloc.

In Germany, the EU's largest economy, the opinion polls are already predicting a record-low turnout with a Gallup poll taken in mid-May showing that only 42 percent of registered voters are expected to cast their ballots on June 13, down from 45 percent in the last elections in 1999.

One of the major reasons for the German disinterest could be the blanket pro-European policies of the political parties and the lack of any alternative options.

"Elections live off drama and mobilization - you need to be for something or against something if you want to get voters interested," said Werner Weidenfeld, professor of applied politics at Munich University in an interview with the International Herald Tribune. "But you could never win elections in this country on a platform that is suspected of being anti-European."

European vote hijacked by national issues

Edmund Stoiber und Angela Merkel

The CDU and CSU have abandoned European issues in favor of an attack on the SPD.

The apparent pro-European consensus in Germany has sapped most of the energy from a campaign that has all but scrapped Europe from the election agenda. The conservative opposition Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister organization, the Christian Social Union (CSU) have even called on voters to turn the European ballot into a referendum on the German government's performance with two and a half years to go before the next national election.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's governing Social Democratic Party is also doing little to enthuse the electorate, avoiding concerns on the accession of power to Brussels by focusing once again on the Iraq issue to try and win votes. Posters proclaiming Germany as a 'Power for Peace' have caused mild indifference and prompted skepticism among voters who are aware of what happened the last time the SPD used Iraq as an election issue.

German voters bored of SPD tactics

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder

Schröder hopes the voting public will "do the important things."

The Social Democrats scraped through on the anti-war vote with the thinnest margin of any postwar government in the German general election in 2002 when it looked as though the conservatives would win. "It's questionable whether this strategy will succeed again - it's more a desperate attempt by the SPD to do damage control," said Manfred Güllner, director of the Berlin-based Forsa institute told the IHT. Such rehashing of policies has added to the apathy of voters as the European elections approach.

Elsewhere in Europe, a growing disillusionment with European institutions and in some cases outright hostility towards the powers in Brussels who are seen to be taking away sovereign control is turning the electorate off. There are also other factors which are reducing the interest in the European Parliament elections.

In many European countries like Portugal, the hosts of the upcoming European Championship soccer tournament, the imminent Euro 2004 finals have overshadowed the election campaigns which clash with the opening of the soccer showcase. But in Britain, like Germany, the euro vote is turning into a national campaign where those who intend to vote could do so out disillusionment not with the EU but with the country's Labour government.

British could use vote as protest

Blair im Weißen Haus Pressekonferenz

British Prime Minister Tony Blair speak to the press during a press conference with U.S. President George W. Bush on the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, April 16, 2004 in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The election day next week, ironically taking on a very Atlanticized name in "Super Thursday," will be the first chance British voters will have to register their displeasure over the war in Iraq and Tony Blair's unflinching support of U.S. President George W. Bush. With unpopularity increasing over evidence of abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the Europe issue may be totally forgotten in favor of a protest vote against such policies.

In general, Britain continues to distance itself from its continental neighbors, viewing French and German influence with unbridled suspicion while rejecting the single currency and upholding its proud, sovereign democratic traditions. Such feelings could affect turnout for the vote which, in the last election five years ago, was barely one in four, the lowest in the EU.

Current opinion polls suggest the possibility of a slightly higher turnout of about one in three, with the protest voters taking their opportunity to show their dismay at Labour's current record. Even so, this would still be low compared with the approximately 45 percent expected for the whole Union.

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