Chris Terry looks at the European election results and considers how UK voter engagement in Europe could be improved.
Last month’s European elections caused great consternation across Europe as populist Eurosceptic outsiders seemingly swept to victory across Europe. In reality the rise of these parties is not as extreme as has been made out and is principally concentrated in a few large states such as Britain and France. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Belgium, Eurosceptic parties actually fell back. In others they fell short of expectations, as was the case in Italy.
Turnout was slightly up on previous European elections, albeit by just 0.1% of the vote – hardly the ‘endorsement of the European project’ as the federalist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe leader, Guy Verhofstadt, suggested during polling.
It has been argued that the rise of populist Eurosceptics and turnout effects are predominantly a response to the lack of importance voters attach to the European Parliament. Eligible voters use European elections as an apparently ‘risk free’ way to express their discontent. It is fair to say the Parliament can feel very distant from voters. In Britain polls regularly report that less than 10% of voters can name even one of their MEPs. MEPs themselves come in two broad types. The majority are federalists who express views more pro-European than voters. A small but growing minority are dedicated Eurosceptics. One therefore wonders the extent to which either of these types actually represents the median voter in Europe.