A Little More about the Elections

So pretty much all of the incumbent parties got whacked, amidst predicted low turnout. The BBC has nitty gritty from all 25 member states. There isn’t an overview page, so the link goes to Poland, largest of the new members.

The SLD government there fell, by design, the day after Poland was admitted to the EU, and the parliament is still deciding whether to ratify the caretaker government or embark on an extended interregnum and early elections. The upshot is that the former governing party, the SLD (who are also former communists), placed fourth behind two parties I can’t find profiles of and a populist-to-wacko bunch called Self-Defense (Samoobrona, for those of you who like things in the original).*

Anyway, the parties across the continent largely have themselves to blame for the turnout. With a seat in Brussels largely viewed as a sidetrack or a retirement post, the parties don’t put their A team on the MEP election lists. Voters react accordingly.

In Germany, for example, people rise through the state legislatures and/or the national parliament. For ambitious politicians, the road to power runs either through a state capital or through Berlin. People in Brussels are largely out of sight and out of mind.

That there is real power in Brussels is not lost on German politicians or civil servants. As a result, in addition to the German embassy, every state has its own representative office in Brussels. But the rising stars of party politics do not see time in the European Parliament as a stepping stone to success, or even as a pinnacle in itself.

Another use of Brussels is as pasture for not-quite-retired or otherwise inconvenient politicians. There’s a little kerfluffle in Germany right now because of a suggestion that Bavaria’s current premier, Edmund Stoiber, would be an ideal candidate for President of the European Commission. He lost the election for Chancellor in 2002, and kicking him upstairs would be very convenient for other party leaders who want to run for Germany’s top office. And even though this case involves the Commission rather than the Parliament, the principle is the same: off to Brussels, out of national politics. (Stoiber isn’t having any of it, and is stirring the waters on other issues as well; hence the kerfluffle.)

If the parties were to make better use of the European Parliament, to nominate rising stars and to open career paths that led through Brussels into national cabinets, voters would probably pay a bit more attention. As it is, though, they can either use Brussels as a sidetrack and stockyard or they can complain about public disinterest. Doing both is dishonest.

* First place went to Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) and second to Liga Polskich Rodzin, which, at a guess, I would say translates as League of Polish Families. I used to know my way around the fissiparous ecology of right-of-center Polish parties, but no more. I would put PO at more center than right, while LPR is almost certainly further right, with clerical-nationalist overtones. Wait a little while, though, and the parties will probably re-form, rather like Italian cabinets in the old days.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Germany by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

10 thoughts on “A Little More about the Elections

  1. “With a seat in Brussels largely viewed as a sidetrack or a retirement post, the parties don?t put their A team on the MEP election lists. Voters react accordingly.”

    Another factor, as reported in much of the news about the elections, is that candidates were usually making a running on domestic, not European issues. That parochialism is hugely significant for it suggests, I believe, that both the candidates and their electorates believed that whoever was elected could expect to have little influence on the course of European policy so their role is only to gather information from the power centre in Brussels and articulate local concerns there. If so, that could also help to explain both the low level of interest in the elections and the increasingly pervasive disenchantment with the European project.

    Most generalisations about politics have their exceptions, of course, and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) certainly did focus on European issues. By its own account, it is committed to negotiating an “amicable divorce” between the EU and the UK or, as one of their high-profile elected candidates, Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk, put it: Wrecking the European Parliament – at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3803599.stm

  2. As I was a bit interested and not able to find these statistics anywhere else, I had to calculate them. As I think the bloggers and readers on this site might be interested I will post it here:

    This last EU-parliament (seats and percentage of seats):
    EPP PES ELDR EUL GREENS UEN EDD NI Total
    294 232 67 55 47 30 17 44 786
    37,4 29,5 8,5 7,0 6,0 3,8 2,2 5,6 100
    http://wwwdb.europarl.eu.int/ep5/owa/p_meps2.repartition?ipid=0&ilg=EN&iorig=home&imsg=

    The elected EU-parliament (seats and percentage of seats):
    EPP PES ELDR EUL GREENS UEN EDD NI Total
    276 200 67 39 42 27 15 66 732
    37,7 27,3 9,2 5,3 5,7 3,7 2,0 9,0 100

    http://www.elections2004.eu.int/ep-election/sites/en/results1306/graphical.html

    So, for all the local hubbub about this party winning and that losing in the big picture almost nothing happened. The partygroupless group got bigger, but won?t some of those parties join groups now that they been elected?

    Isn?t this a remarcable result? And what does it say?

    With confusion from sweden

  3. Morten, to me it says that even though incumbent parties mostly lost (with some exception in Spain and a couple other places), the governments across the EU are distributed enough left-right that both sides lose and gain, and the net is very hard to see. Right-of-center incumbents lose in Denmark, France and Italy; left-of-center incumbents lose in Germany, UK; these come close to cancelling out. Also, proportional representation and party lists mean that major changes in the makeup are even harder to achieve.

    Thanks for crunching the numbers!

  4. The aggregate numbers also show that very little change in the totals can co-occur with substantial national swings. People perceive the national results, and they have a point as far political reality is concerned. It would be absurd to take the aggregate result as a legimitation for conservative policies to be applied across the EU. Countries that have voted social-democrat would revolt. I think the result means that uniform EU-wide trends are highly unlikely in general, and probably coincidental when they occur. This means that the EU parliament must be made ‘diversity-proof’: if it wants to contribute to a harmonious EU, it must respect the diversity on the national level and must not rely on its aggregate fraction strength to ‘rule the continent’. A case against mandatory deep political integration in the near future.

  5. You hit the nail on the head with PO (Platforma Obywatelska): centrist right, with a progressive (read: ProEU) outlook. LPR are very much right-wing, swearing by Thacherite economics and a preservation of “family values”. Third were PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc: Law and Justice), who seem slightly centrist-right, but I’m not too familiar with their policies. We can only thank the lazy non-voters for placing Samoobrona fourth (and thank we will!!) and blame LPR’s high place on their very militant voters. LPR encourage their supporters to vote right after Sunday mass and, as most of LPR supporters tend to be fervent Catholics, they do. All in all, it’s not great, but it could have been much, much worse. I wish UW (Unia Wolnosci) would place higher…I think Geremek is fantastic.

  6. Sorry, David. My bad.

    UW are liberals who advocate free market economy. Their roots are quite deep in the Solidarity movement of the 1980s (Geremek was one of the “inteligentsia” involved at the time). They are very pro-European and their outlook is quite progressive. Unfortunately, they are seen by the average Pole as being basically too well educated (Intelligentsia for the intelligent, a friend described it). It’s a shame, because I think their progressive, pro-European but still esentially Polish policies are just what the country needs.

    Slightly more info here:http://www.fact-index.com/u/un/unia_wolnosci.html

  7. both the candidates and their electorates believed that whoever was elected could expect to have little influence on the course of European policy so their role is only to gather information from the power centre in Brussels and articulate local concerns there – and of course they were quite right to believe that.

    The problem is that the only people who vote on “European” issues per se are the Eurosceptics, who are therefore the most motivated in a low turnout election. The non-sceptic parties would be much better to run better-known personalities who can attempt to capture the public imagination. (Closed list electoral systems make this much more difficult.)

    The weird thing is that 90% or more of MEPs work very hard, but the results of their labour is barely visible even in Brussels, let alone at home.

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