Richard North, 13/06/2004  

An extraordinary amount of tosh gets said and written by the political classes at a time of electoral upset. Since Thursday’s entirely predictable local election results in Britain we have been told ad nauseam by has-been politicians and media commentators that the electorate was punishing Blair for his stand on the Iraqi war. Presumably by voting for the Conservative Party, who equally firmly supported him. A funny way of showing one’s dissatisfaction.

In the European elections the biggest winner appears to be the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who also supported the war but who, in any case, is associated in the electorate’s mind with one policy only: they are calling for British withdrawal from the EU.

Going on to what is going on in the rest of the European Union (as I write), it seems that Berlusconi may be punished by the electorate for his support of the American policy while Chirac and Schröder for their opposition to the war. Or so it would be if there were the slightest evidence that the vote was about Iraq. It seems to be about anything and everything. The Iraqi war is a detail that is of little interest to the European voters.

In the first place, one must note that the average turn-out across the EU fell again to 44.6 per cent. Not only have the new members not pushed up the figures, they have registered some of the lowest ones. The East Europeans have been EU citizens for just over a month and they are already disillusioned with the European elections. Not bad.

No country apart from Greece has registered a turn-out so far of over 50 per cent and some have been as low as 20. In almost all, the opposition parties are taking votes. John Palmer, the political director of the European Policy Centre in Brussels has announced wearily and a shade disdainfully: ``The election campaigns once again have been the reheated leftovers of national political debates.'' Which in itself proves that the famous European demos remains as elusive as ever.

More than that, it is becoming clear that the electorate of Europe is either contemptuous of the electoral process that gives them nothing or feels alienated from the rulers and legislators. On the one hand, this is quite a healthy attitude and the idea of kicking governments in office is what keeps democracy alive. On the other hand, is it not time those governments and, in many cases, the official oppositions asked themselves why they are so disliked?

Chancellor Shröder's Social-Democrats seem to have had their worst electoral result since World War II at under 22 per cent with 45 per cent or even more going to the Christian Democrats. President Chirac’s party and its allies are predicted to get 38.3 per cent with the Socialist opposition groups coming in at 42.9 per cent.

In the Netherlands the ruling party seems to be holding on by a margin of 0.2 per cent but there has been an interesting and unreported development. The European Transparency Party, founded by the whistle blower Paul van Buitenen seems to have acquired 2 MEPs. This still remains to be confirmed.

We do not know how the Polish eurosceptic Samoobrona has done but predictions were good.

While it is fair to say that much of the voting was over domestic matters, Britain has once again bucked the trend. Apart from Scotland, where there were no local elections, the turn-out was higher than before at around 40 per cent. Also, the general dissatisfaction with what is turning into the most unpopular government for a very long time was expressed in the local elections. In the European elections the British electorate voted, for possibly the first time since 1979, on European issues. The result is not comfortable to the integrationists.

Will they now call another European election to get a “better” result? And how will the government leaders of the EU negotiate in Brussels next week, when their mandate has just been undermined by the electorate?

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