It is not just my personal experience that many people’s opinions about the EU and its institutions are predominantly based on a political chicken and egg problem: No one knows what came first, ignorance or lack of interest; however, both do a great job in reinforcing each other.
A particularly eye-opening experience for me was the change of hearts of a conservative friend who is now a lonely Europhile in the Tory party. Only a couple of days of un-biased research for a paper about the EU and much of the previous Superstate rethoric had to become intellectually dishonest. Sure, institutional Europe does feature a certain, and often bemoaned “democratic deficit”. But more importantly, I’d say, Europe lacks citizens appreciating the importance of the democratic procedures already in place.
But this, I suggest, is much less the people’s fault than now suggested by the same media that usually avoids explaining the complexity and importance of European governance for our life; a little because many journalists have a hard time with complexity themselves, but more importantly, because the technocratic and rather invisible way politcs is done in Brussels – while appreciated by national politicians – does not make good tv.
The media thus usually constructs a simplified national reality that not accurately reflects the true nature of our multi-level political systems. With respect to Germany, it may be indicative of this trend that Wolfgang Klein, a former EU correspondent for the German public network ARD, who once produced a very informative yet little known programme about the EU, has now moved to Berlin and become the editor of the much less informative, yet influential, political talk show “Christiansen“. Gresham’s law applies to eyeballs, too.
After the first direct election to the European Parliament political scientists Karlheinz Reif and Herrman Schmitt stipulated that it was largely a “second order national contest“. Subsequent analyses largely confirmed their intuitive proposition that national, not the European political agendas and political alternatives are the most decisive factors for European voters – while the electoral consequences are deemed less important. Reif and Schmitt’s research was published at a time when the European Parliament did in fact not have nearly as much influence as it has today. Strangely though, in light of the seeming predominance of the national political sphere, it does still seem somewhat cynically appropriate to group the EU elections with local elections, as in Britain or some regions of Germany – why not get over with all second order elections at the same time?
So should you still have doubts about your choice for the European election and will cast your vote in Germany, why not take a look at the European “Wahl-O-mat“, if only to give this election the consideration it deserves.
The application has been developed by an independent editorial board in cooperation with the German Bundeszentrale f?r Politische Bildung (Federal Centre for Political Education) and the Dutch Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek, which developed the original application “Stemwijzer“. They do still offer a Stemwijzer for the Dutch EU elections, but it might be a little late for a change of heart there.
For everybody not voting in the Netherlands or in Germany, votematch.net offers the first Stemwijzer derived electoral helper-tool based on the European party system, not national lists – and it’s in English. One word of advice though – don’t be shocked if the result isn’t what you expect – should you expect something. The weighting seems a little arbitrary at times, despite the possibility to choose areas of importance in the end.
Interestingly, in the German case, answering “neutral” for all 30 questions leads to a recommendation to vote for the Social Democrats. And somehow I wasn’t even surprised…