The World from Berlin: 'Europe's Elites Are Destroying the Grand Project'

Never mind who the voters voted for. Why didn't more Europeans cast their ballots? German commentators think they have the answer.

How does one analyze an election that took place simultaneously in 27 different member states? Prior to the European parliamentary vote, pundits lamented the fact that the EU-wide vote rarely went beyond being a domestic political barometer. With the results having been made public on Sunday evening, however, those same pundits rushed to fit the results into a continent-wide pattern.

A couple in Brussels look at a board displaying provisional results of the European parliament elections.
REUTERS

A couple in Brussels look at a board displaying provisional results of the European parliament elections.

The patterns were certainly there to be seen. Social Democrats suffered mightily across the EU as voters apparently turned to the right for solutions to the ongoing economic crisis that has gripped Europe and the world. At the same time, many voters found center-right parties not conservative enough, with far-right parties doing well in Holland, Austria, Hungary and elsewhere.

Success on the center-right was good news for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. On Tuesday, the conservative former prime minister of Portugal declared his candidacy for a second five-year term. Given his political camp's strong election showing, his candidacy will likely be unopposed.

Mostly, though, Monday mulling focused on the perennial European election problem: low voter turnout. Just 43 percent of Europe's 375 million eligible voters headed to the polls from June 4 to 7, less even than last time when 45.5 percent voted. German commentators on Tuesday say that national leaders and parties are to blame for failing to campaign on European issues and for using Brussels as a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"All opinion polls show that the majority of European's value the EU, that they would not like to do without it, that they appreciate the advantages of the community and that they would like to see more Europe when it comes to dealing with the big questions of the present and future such as climate change, energy supplies or foreign and security policy."

"Why then does this majority not turn out to vote? Because no one has convinced them that it is important. Almost every party in every country in the EU has failed in the task of encouraging the voters to take part in the decision-making process."

"The way that governments and parties boast about pushing through national interests in Brussels or how they attack Eurocrats when it suits them domestically -- which it almost always does -- is destructive. The tears being shed about the shameful turnout are crocodile tears."

"A good start would be if the politicians could resist the temptation to attack the EU to score points at home. And if they defended it when it is unjustifiably or unreasonably attacked. Politicians who stand by what they do in Brussels and who regularly explain it could revive the political trust in the great European project, something that people actually hold dear. Then the European elections could become something that they should be: elections for Europe."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"This European election has confirmed one thing: The European Parliament's increase in meaning and power has not made its elections any more attractive.... The campaign focused only on domestic issues. Plus, national governments like to claim everything that goes well in their countries for themselves while using the EU as a scapegoat for any inadequacies or mistakes."

"National issues also took center stage because the EU is incomprehensible to most citizens.... The expansion of the 'old' EU by a dozen states and the beginning of accession talks with Turkey has lead to the impression that Europe has no borders. If the future dimensions of the EU are as unclear as the aim of European integration, then it is hardly surprising that only those who are radically opposed are able to ... mobilize their voters."

"As long as European voters feel like players who are supposed to add the piece of a puzzle without knowing what the whole picture looks like, then the vote for the real EU won't grow but will instead continue to decline."

"As long as the European Parliament does not elect a government or the citizens have no direct vote for the president, then the EU's institutions will remain alien to them. And the European election will remain a national -- and to some extent European -- test vote and will continue to have an ersatz function."

"This ersatz function has shown that most Europeans don't want any experiments, with a few exceptions are ill-disposed to the extremists and are more inclined to support conservatives. If there are any big losers, it is the social democrats. The fact that there are now more Europe opponents and skeptics in the parliament should be taken as evidence of pluralism."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Eurocrats and the skeptics are once again moaning about low turnout and the lack of interest in Europe. However, on closer examination the election results from the 27 member states show just the opposite. They demonstrate how similarly European societies have become after 20 years of accelerated globalization and open borders. Despite some national quirks this election's major trends point in amazingly similar directions."

"First of all there is the upswing in support for the Greens.... They are profiting from the feeling that the current crisis is more than just a problem of economics but that it says something about the limits of the dominant idea of growth."

"Throughout Europe social democracy is in crisis. Amazingly this is regardless of whether they are in power or not. Since Karl Marx no political idea has a more materialistic world view than the classic workers movement. And their ideas of how to combat the crisis are just as traditional. While the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is launching one record bail-out after another, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier is offering generous state aid packages."

"The misery of the social democrats makes the conservatives' successes look greater than they are. … In Italy Silvio Berlusconi just about held steady, in Spain the opposition was not really able to profit from the country's disastrous economy, while in Germany the conservatives had their worst European election results ever. (The conservatives') great pragmatism, the perception that they have economic competence and the desire for tried and tested practices in the crisis is all that saved them from a big drop in support."

"Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the extreme right when viewed as a whole have not profited from the crisis. Their successes in different countries were the result of local issues."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"As a rule the voters were not concerned with the fate of the EU.... The political horizon in the European elections was, in each state, the national one. The votes were aimed at their own capitals not at Brussels or Strasbourg. The votes stopped at the national borders and did not enter the European space that has been there for so long. That could be due to a lack of enthusiasm for Europe among voters. But that's not the only reason."

"The problem lies with the political class across Europe which has not succeeded in focusing on European politics and their own plans for the EU. There is a broad debate about whether state aid for companies is good or bad. Or whether Europe needs a real president or a real army. Or if Europe should be a nation in the true sense of the word. This is discussed in think tanks or universities and at conferences. But it is not debated in every day life. That has to change. The United States of Europe cannot be administered behind the backs of the voters."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"There was practically no election campaign that dealt with European themes. The election campaign in nearly every country focused on national themes. Can anyone really blame people for not going to a mid-term vote when they are not informed about its actual content? No party, apart from the Greens, made a serious effort to come up with a program ahead of the European elections."

"Furthermore, Euro-skepticism and anti-European ideas are no longer a phenomenon of fringe groups. Whether it be ministers or top politicians, or even European parliamentarians, everyone likes to attack Brussels for its over-regulation. This is wrong. It is the representatives of the various EU states who make the decisions on laws and regulations, whether they be in the European Commission, the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament."

"Europe is too difficult and complicated to explain? Then it is the task of European parliamentarians to make the goings on in Brussels simpler and more transparent."

"What has to happen so that from Berlin to Paris, from Helsinki to Athens, someone wakes up? If it goes on like this, then Europe's elites will destroy their grand project for peace and stability themselves. If saying 'no' to Europe becomes a recipe for success then the EU is pretty much finished. Whether that happens due to ignorance, intention or stupidity -- it is depressing."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 1:15 p.m. CET

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