Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, June 06, 2009

European Parliament Elections

Hi Everyone,

This weekend the European Union (EU) is holding elections for the European Parliament (EP). Or rather, the 27 member states are holding 27 individual elections for their delegations (members are called "MEPs") to the EP. Most countries will be voting on June 7th but the UK and Netherlands voted on the 4th and a trickle of countries voted yesterday and today. Most of the countries use proportional representation which will tend to produce MEPs from a wide variety of parties. When the ballots are counted there will be a 736 member parliament ready to take up their offices in Brussels and vote in Strasbourg (a monument to French pettiness).

So far, the results from the Netherlands seem to indicate big gains for the extreme right with the center right winning the most seats. The far right, anti-Islamic "Freedom Party" had no seats in the 2004 EP but won 16.9% of the vote. I would caution against interpreting this as a signal that the Netherlands is on the verge of becoming a far right bastion. Far right parties in Europe typically win between 5 and 20% of the vote and tend to do best in "second order elections" like the EP.


The Law Talking Guy said...

Are these sort of general protest votes? I mean, isn't it true that most Europeans don't ascribe much value to the European Parliament? If so, I'm not sure what it tells us at all, other than the fact that the way Europeans cast protest votes is to vote for loonies, just like Americans do. See Nader, Paul, etc.

Raised By Republicans said...


You are correct that most Europeans, wrongly, believe that the EP is meaningless. It is in fact the most influential legislative body in Europe. But perceptions drive voting here and those perceptions are that a vote in the EP is "safe" for use as a protest. The result is that radical parties often do better in the EP elections than in national elections.

It's also the case that the EP is still dominated by parties of the mainstream, Social Democratic, Christian Democratic, and Liberal blocs. All three of those blocs are broadly pro-EU and mainstream on most other policies. So these protest votes probably have less impact than votes for Nader which resulted in 8 years of war, theocracy and the suspension of civil liberties.

Raised By Republicans said...

The EP elections are in and the detailed results seem to favor the center right and the far right/fringe parties. A Swedish party, called the Pirate Party, advocating free exchange of computer files on the internet won a seat.

But the legislative coalition of Christian-Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals is still necessary for the EP to pass legislation. These three groups are all largely pro-integration and in the mainstream with regard to management of regulatory policy (the area of the EP's greatest influence).

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not sure what you mean by calling the EU the most influential legislative body in Europe. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if I'm a Brit, doesn't the House of Commons have a lot more impact on my life than Brussels?

The Law Talking Guy said...

Curious question. IF the EU Parliament is so powerful, why does it attract so little attention? In other words, why doesn't the perception follow reality?

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, you raise some reasonable questions.

If you are a Brit (or citizen of any EU member state) over 50% of the legislation that applies to you is passed by the EU which the member states (like the UK) are then required to incorporate into their national legislation and enforce. The EP shares considerable influence over that legislation with the Council of Ministers. So, to be perfectly frank, no, the House of Commons does not have more impact on your life than "Brussels" ("Brussels" is a common term of art for the EU but the EP votes in Strasbourg remember), indeed it has less.

As for your second question, "IF the EU Parliament is so powerful, why does it attract so little attention? In other words, why doesn't the perception follow reality?" Congress is certainly the most influential legislative body in the US and our voter turnout numbers are comparable to those observed last week in Europe.

The answer to the "why so low" question is rather more complicated and I'm afraid, it involves a rather large literature on voting and political psychology that I'm not as familiar with. Part of it may be that Europeans are no better informed about their own institutions than Americans are about theirs. Another part of it could be that because EU legislative procedures are so complicated it is very difficult for non-experts to identify precisely who should be held accountable for a particular policy outcome and how voters should go about doing that (indeed, it's not always easy for the experts either). Another factor may be that national politicians spend a great deal of time and effort trying to convince their voters that the national level is more important in all things.

Pombat said...

From a British point of view: national politics is more prevalent in the media; national politicians make out that they're the most influential on the lives of British folk (lower lever elections typically have less turnout than national I believe); the European Parliament is relatively new, and thus seen as less influential. There's also an assumption that anything the EP come up with that's really bad for the UK will be gotten rid of by the national representatives before it's actually enacted.

Raised By Republicans said...

"There's also an assumption that anything the EP come up with that's really bad for the UK will be gotten rid of by the national representatives before it's actually enacted."

That assumption has a number of problems.

First, the UK does not have a veto on the kinds of regulations over which the EP has the most influence.

Second, just as there is no single policy or set of policies that is best for everyone in the UK, there is policy or set of policies that is bad for everyone in the UK. Making up a list of such policies would undoubtedly be a cause of some conflict between Labour, Conservative and LDP sympathizers (let alone the wierdos from UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru, etc).

Third, to the extent that people are assuming that the UK will alter the effect of the policy in the implementation phase, they are mistaken. British governments consistently have among the best records of avoiding disputes over implementation with the Commission and ECJ.