“Just” 43 per cent of voters across the EU took part in the European elections last week, smashing the record for low turnout and stimulating much gnashing of teeth across the continent as well as in Brussels, where the usual chorus of complaints from MEPs that their important work is completely ignored outside of Brussels (and, for one week a month, Strasbourg) has been louder than ever.
Yet to me the surprise is that the figure remains so high. There seem to be three very good reasons for low voter turnout at Euro-elections. First, most people across the EU regard themselves as citizens of their own country before they regard themselves as European. Their national parliaments are much closer to home; they conduct their business in the language spoken by voters – so it is little surprise that national elections should prove a greater draw.
Second, while the work of the European parliament has become more important over the years, particularly in scrutinising legislation and acting as a check on the Commission, it remains true that for most of the issues that voters really care about – taxation, education, healthcare – the parliament’s role is limited to non-existent. It is not even capable of initiating its own legislation: that role is the sole preserve of the Commission. It is national parliaments that make the decisions that matter to people.
Or, rather, it is national governments, which brings me to the third point: because MEPs do not form a government, it’s difficult for voters in Euro-elections…