What are the components of national interest

European elections

Bettina Westle

To person

Dr. Bettina Westle is professor for methods and empirical democracy research at the Philipps University of Marburg. Among other things, she researches voting behavior as well as national and European identity.

The election to the European Parliament is regarded as a "subsidiary election" with generally low participation. It takes place in a triangle of disinterest between parties, media and eligible voters. Negative attitudes towards the European institutions intensify this problem in Germany as well.

Many voters stay away from the European elections. What are the reasons? (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Although the European Union (EU) intervenes more and more in the living conditions of the people in its member states, they exercise their central democratic right of participation - participation in the elections to the European Parliament (EP) - to a lesser and even decreasing extent. The turnout in the first EP elections in 1976 in Germany was almost 66% and the EU average was 62% - and in most countries it was significantly lower than in the national main elections. Participation then continued to decline overall, with a particularly sharp drop in 1999. The values ​​did not recover from this, but were 42.6% across the EU in the last EP elections in 2014 and 48.1% in Germany. However, there are significant differences in voter turnout when comparing Member States (with values ​​between 13% in Slovakia and 90% in Belgium with compulsory voting, but also 75% in Malta without voting).

The slight increase in voter turnout in Germany in 2014 is probably due to the greater personalization of this election, in which Martin Schulz (SPD) was also a German candidate for the office of President of the EU Commission (who is elected by the EP). This is also indicated by the values ​​of the SPD, which rose from 20.8% to 27.3% in 2014. Participation was also facilitated by the fact that local elections were held in several federal states at the same time. However, the hopes associated with the election of the president for a significant increase in voter turnout across the EU and a closer connection between the population and the EU have not been fulfilled. Rather, the introduction of Spitzenkandidaten seems to have contributed to a polarization of the electorate, i.e. pro-European citizens now consider the EU more democratic, anti-European are even more distant from the EU (Popa / Rohrschneider / Schmitt 2016). The EP elections have always been used as an opportunity to protest not only against European, but also against national politics (especially since there is no 5% hurdle there). In the last election, for example, small parties with 8.5% and the still young AfD with 7.1% recorded significant shares of the vote.