Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, May 11, 2009

EU elections

Simon Hix is Professor of European and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science and author of What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It. He offers some ideas about encouraging more people to vote and encouraging them to think about European issues.

A truly European vote?

At the time of the first European Parliament elections in 1979 there was widespread enthusiasm for this experiment in transnational democracy.

Sadly these contests have not lived up to their billing. Few people vote and those that do vote are mainly motivated by national rather than European politics.

If you are a UK voter, when you go to the polls on 4 June, will you be thinking about Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or Alex Salmond? Or will you be thinking about Joseph Daul, Martin Schulz, Graham Watson, or Dani Cohn-Bendit (the party leaders in the European Parliament)? Exactly!...

But treating European Parliament elections as national elections is a big problem for the European Parliament...

European Parliament elections matter. If the centre-right wins we can expect more market liberalisation, fewer environmental regulations, and more restrictive immigration policies, while if the centre-left wins, we can expect stricter environmental standards, more labour market rules and liberal immigration policies...

Most countries, like Britain, use a form of proportional representation (PR) which only allows citizens to choose between political parties.

However, some countries, such as Finland, Denmark or Ireland, use a form of PR which allows citizens to vote for different candidates from the same party. These "open" systems encourage politicians to campaign on their personal records and encourage parties to put up high-profile candidates. Not surprisingly, many more voters in Finland, Denmark and Ireland know the names of their MEPs and feel more engaged in European elections than voters in Britain...

After the elections in June, the governments and the European Parliament will elect a new EU Commission President. Why don't we see rival candidates for this position before the elections, rather than after them?...

If there were different candidates for the Commission President before the elections we could ask our party leaders who they support for the most important post in EU politics, and why. The media would also have some European personalities to write about in the build-up to the elections, and we could all watch the winner and loser on election night...

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At 6:47 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Alan Carter wrote from the UK that when it comes to EU elections, "most people that do vote won't know
1) the name of the candidates before they see the ballot paper,
2) which region they are actually in and what it's boundaries are
3) what the European parliament does.

But, they may well vote outside 'normal' party preferences - or logic(!) , For instance, the tiny United Kingdom Independence party (UKIP) does relatively well in Euro elections, but is of course totally opposed to Europe.


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