Tuesday, June 01, 2004

People have stopped believing

Sources: AFP, The Times, International Herald Tribune

It is not only in the United Kingdom that the European elections are being seen as a mid-term verdict on the party in power. Both in Germany and France, the voters are expected to use the ballots to send a message to their respective governments.

In Germany, trailing in the polls, undermined by the struggling economy and beset by discontent, Schröder's ruling coalition faces precisely this dynamic, with the added problem that – as in Britain - regional and municipal elections also being held on June 13. These elections are expected to underline the unpopularity dogging Schröder's centre-left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.

As Agence France Presse remarks, "Consequently, the main battlegrounds of the EU campaign have been anything but Europe: the opposition conservatives hammering Schröder's on jobs and the economy, and the government recalling its stance against the war on Iraq." The focus is national rather than European, with the parties are waging largely national campaigns and voters will be making their decisions based on what is happening in their own country rather than Europe as a whole.

Against this background, Euro-apathy is also expected to exert its influence, with the turnout predicted to fall as low as 25 percent of German voters. Much the same is expected in France, where the situation is compounded by the electors, having recently turned out for local and regional elections, are suffering from election fatigue.

France, particularly, is suffering from the lack of a credible opposition to the increasingly unpopular Chirac – the Socialists still failing to get their act together after the defeat of Jospin in the presidential elections two years ago. As in Britain, therefore, fringe parties are expected to do well.

Altogether, therefore, the Euro-elections are assuming an air of unreality, verging on the surreal. Aimed at giving a mandate to the only directly elected institution of the EU, they are in fact becoming a mixed contest where anything but Euro-issues are to be the deciding factors.

Perhaps the most significant comment of the day, therefore, comes Jan Wilczynski, a former ceramics factory worker living in Wloclawek, west of Warsaw, quoted in today's International Herald Tribune. "I don't really know anything about the European Parliament," he said, after attending an election rally over the weekend. "And I'm afraid not a lot of people will vote, because people have stopped believing." Quite.

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