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A few rather unusual new members of the new European Parliament introduced by Le Figaro newspaper reflect a new direction within EU politics.
It seems that EU citizens no longer solely choose their representatives along the traditional left-right lines but instead opt for personalities and specific issues that cannot be classified simply as “right wing” or “left wing”. New campaign topics and campaigning tools are creating a new form of public opinion which can be very fast-moving, very topic-focused, and very much linked to charismatic personalities.
A few recent electoral successes illustrate this point well: a media-friendly Finnish priest known for his sense of humour (“Father Mitro”), who’s stated he will never stop wearing his cassock, gathered more than 71,000 direct votes, although he decided to go with the Social Democrats only in May; the Swedish Pirate Party which fights for the freedom of access to the internet and the right to online privacy won 1 seat, despite the party only being created in 2006; the sudden focus on transparency has led to populists such as Austrian Hans-Peter Martin being re-elected; the Greens have shown that citizens now care as much about the environment as about social and economic issues; and the revival of nationalist and xenophobic parties in some countries poses a serious threat to traditional democratic parties.
Today, debates flare up and die out very quickly. Politicians who catch the right trends at the right moment can enjoy substantial success.
Now, with all these guys around, who says the new Parliament won’t be hitting the headlines in the months ahead?
A chat over coffee (with Veiko Spolitis, Latvian MEP candiate)
That the Latvian public is the most eurosceptic in the EU is very much due to a flawed legislative process and complacent politicians. The public’s distrust vis-à-vis the democratic regime is being transmitted into distrust against the EU institutions. Rather ironically, Eurobarometer polls show that for the last four years the EU institutions were trusted more than Latvian political parties, Latvian governments, and the national Parliament (known as the Saeima).
Distrust could describe the overall mood of the Latvian urban population, whilst apathy and indifference could be said to characterise the countryside. Stagnation of the Latvian political elite has lead to a mushrooming of political parties during the past year. New parties have appealed for transparency, the rule of law, and the “Europeanisation” of Latvian post-Soviet political culture.
While touring Latvia during the election campaign I witnessed a significant amount of indifference and distrust. One of the many questions people asked me was whether they would need to go to Brussels to elect the European Parliament! Such questions made me thoughtful, but in the meantime I also witnessed hope among the younger generation that the EU could assist Latvian civil society in cleaning up the mess. To rid the Latvian political system from its complacent politicians and to upgrade its legal system would take some time. Pan–European party groups could be more instrumental in this process, but they are also institutionally tied with existing political parties.
Two weeks ago I was in a TV debate with Rihards Pīks (MEP – People’s Party). It was a sheer coincidence that the “Guide to Open Europe’s League Table of MEPs” was published at that time. The Honourable MEP in the TV studio – contrary to the results of the study (he was the worst performer among the MEPs from the Baltic States) – tried to convince the audience that the European Parliament must embody transparency and openness if it is to become a credible institution. With such hypocrisy, it is impossible to raise the credibility of EU institutions. It was rather symptomatic that, while the TV host engaged us in a debate about energy security, climate change, and Europe-wide migration, I was preoccupied by the notion that Latvian voters want to see politicians who do not lie and are able to deliver.
Political parties across Europe have decided to use all and any tactics to rally voter support in what is predicted to be an election with a record-low turnout. The latest weapon of choice is not new; Hollywood and Bollywood have used it for years; authors resort to it; marketers love it; mammals do it for procreation – yep, you guessed it, it’s all about sex.
France seems to have the ‘hottest’ and most risqué campaign in the EU. It all started with the ‘Union pour un Mouvement Populaire’ (UMP) electoral tour during which 20,000 condoms were distributed throughout France using the slogan “Europe protects you”. Then the young socialists took it one step further by posting a video entitled “Let’s make Europe vibrate” linking the EU to sexual performance. Oh my!
The French European Youth Parliament (EJP) distributed 70,000 flyers inviting voters represented in underwear to choose, ‘bend’ and submit their MEPs to ‘their lust and desires’. The flyers also feature leather whips and fluffy handcuffs…
But it’s not just the French, the German Socialists had their election slogan screamed out by a couple having sex and the Dutch Greens are distributing condoms with “I want a European community” written on them.
Let’s hope, for the sake of all these parties that this sexy campaign will act as a natural aphrodisiac and that voters will not suffer from a lack of election-libido.
Ellen Söderberg is only 18 years old and is still in high school.
She’s also a pirate…
Ellen is an MEP candidate for the Swedish Pirate Party, the second most popular party in Sweden among voters aged 18-29 years. In an interview with The Local she says she hopes “to get a more open EU Parliament, to speak about integrity, surveillance and piracy. Knowledge is a right as a human. I want knowledge and culture to be free”.
Despite being presently predicted to gain up to two seats in the European Parliament the Swedish Pirate Party still has an uphill struggle ahead of them. They might have the election’s youngest candidate on their side, as well as up to 6% of Swedish voters backing them, but the key for a party that has so much young support, is to make sure theses youngster actually cast their votes on the big day.
Perhaps Ellen’s aspirations and young age will motivate other young voters?
Today, the European elections went digital in Estonia. For the first time, citizens in the country could vote in the EU elections over the internet (electronic voting was also used in Estonia’s most recent national elections).
An online voting procedure is facilitated by a chip-equipped ID card and will be accessible until 3rd June. It is indeed a modern and convenient way for citizens to exercise their rights with no need to go to the polls, since all you need to do is to click around. What is more, voters can change their choice and vote again, both electronically and traditionally, by visiting a polling station.
It is believed that electronic voting can increase constantly declining voter turnout and will be especially attractive for young people. Since opening today at 9am, more than 5988 (at the time of writing) Estonians clicked for their candidates. It remains to be seen whether the system will be successful and spread to the rest of the EU by the next elections.
A chat over coffee (with Chris in London)
Sometimes you get a set of political circumstances that make the mind boggle with rumour and anticipation, and this is one such time. The coming together of the European Elections on June 4th with local government elections in the UK and an ongoing expenses scandal has diminished the appeal for mainstream parties in the UK and is creating the conditions for a perfect political storm.
Voter apathy will more than likely result in poor showing for Labour and exaggerated proportions for minority parties like the Greens, UKIP and, worryingly, the BNP. The Prime Minister is in a corner and will need newspaper headlines within hours of the election. Speculation is rife for a big Cabinet reshuffle, so where is the pressure?
- Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has become a magnet for some dreadful headlines, like her husband’s secret taxpayer subsidised porn and the stabvest incident – “et tu, Gordon?”.
- Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary is the proverbial red squirrel – small, chirpy and in danger of extinction – demoting her would look strong after her vocal criticisms.
- Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary has some expenses mud stuck to him and recently alienated the rail industry. He could face European exile if his loyalty to Brown can’t save him.
- Remember former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson? The now Baron Mandelson of Foy has performed strongly but is unlikely to get his dream of Foreign Secretary as he is too good on domestic tactics to go abroad (and Brown will want to keep his Blairite rival David Miliband away too). A possible for the Home Office.
- Husband and wife Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper answer unswervingly to the PM from their adjoining constituencies, and Ed Balls is Brown’s anointed heir. Keep an eye on this couple.
- Rumoured to have spent a ‘secret weekend’ with the PM in Chequers, we may see the return of Sadie to the front benches as guide dog to the new Communities Secretary, David Blunkett.
- Peter Hain, famed for his “tango-man” perma-tan could be in for a shock recall to the front benches.