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Source: The European Union: A Beginner's Guide (1 ed. 2012) by Alasdair Blair.

[p. 119 Top] [1.] In some instances, the elections can be used as a form of protest vote against the government of the day. [End of 1.]

[p. 124 Bottom]   To understand this issue, it is worth reminding ourselves that European elections are totally different to any other type of election that we can imagine. If we take the example of local and national elections, it is the case that these elections are about local and national issues. The crucial distinction is that European Parliament elections really have nothing to do with European issues. Members of the European Parliament are without exception elected on the basis of the national context and not the European. Moreover, the debates put forward by the political parties are invariably about national issues. This is despite the fact

[p. 125 Top]

that MEPs sit within transnational political groupings that have nothing to do with national issues. In this sense, we could argue that European elections are best referred to as the 'dialogue of the deaf'. Candidates tend to stand for election on national issues and the electorate tend to register their vote depending on the suc- cess of national governments rather than the European integra- tion process. This is further influenced by the fact that European elections often take place midway through the lifetime of national parliaments. [2.] One further problem with European elections is that they are often used as a sounding board for discontent with national governments and as such it is often the case that rela- tively small parties, such as the Greens, will do better in a European election than they would otherwise do in a national election. [End of 2.]

[p. 195 Middle]   Just as we can expect a greater extent of shared decision making at an EU level, we can also expect that there will be fur- ther changes to the way that the EU is governed. At present the EU is governed by institutions that suffer from weak legitimacy. This particularly applies to the European Parliament where there continues to be a development lag between the augmentation of its powers and its weak legitimacy. This is in part a product of low turnout in European elections, which in turn points to the fact that the European Parliament does not operate in a manner that citizens would expect. [3.] European elections are not about the choices of what the EU should be about, as they are basically just a focus for the electorate to express their discontent with national governments. [End of 3.] But the Parliament has also been timid in using its powers to reinforce democracy.

  1. Why would a national electorate do 1-3, rather than protest directly against the national government?

  2. How would the national electorate achieve 1-3? Vote for EU parties that oppose the national parties hated by the electorate?

  3. Why would the national government care about which EU party prevails in the EUP? I can understand a national government's hope for its own members to become MEPs: but how does this hope benefit the national government?

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As for 1) it's not a question of doing one as opposed to the other; protesting directly and voting in EU elections is not mutually exclusive. EU elections provide just another outlet.

2) Broadly, yes, although it does not necessarily rise to the level of hate (e.g. Germany elected among others the former editor of a satirical magazine who went to the parliament with the expressed goal of making fun of the proceedings).

3) National governments are affected by EU decisions. EU decisions are affected by the European parliament which is after all not completely powerless. So it is in the interest of national government that their views are represented in the EU parliament.

Two things worth pointing out:

  • if there is an European instituiton with weak legitimacy it is rather the European Commission, not the parliament (and it fact the most important job of the elected parliament is to balance the power of the appointed commission).
  • while there is a kernel of truth to them, the views in the quoted piece are just that, the views of one man from a eurosceptic island; they not not necessarily reflect some deep truth about the EU.

If people took the time they spend on yelling "it is all a scam" to inform themselves about European affairs that would probably do a lot more to cure the perceived democratic deficit (but then this is not necessarily the goal of euro critics).

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First and foremost, the "national electorate" is just a concept. It is the result of each person individual decision; it is not as if it was a single entity with a coherent thinking.

Also, there is a significant difference for elections to the EU Parliament. Election rules state that:

The electoral area may be subdivided if this will not generally affect the proportional nature of the voting system

For example, the UK is divided in only 12 constituencies, which means that smaller parties have a greater opportunity to get MPs than in local elections1.

And, last but not least, the EU Parliament is seen as a remote institution; its decisions not affecting people's lives. Someone with Labour inclinations may be pissed off by some decisions from his party and still vote for it in national or local elections because he does not want Conservative governments, but will feel way less pressured to do so in an European election.

All of the above should naturally lead to better results for minority parties in EU elections that in national elections.

So, to the points:

  1. As Eike states, it is not that all the people are OK with their current government. Also, my experience is that campaigns for European Parliament seldom focus in the politics of European Parliament (which, as I stated, is seen as something remote and unknown) but rather in local politics, making the EU Parliament vote a vote about national politics.

  2. As stated above, I think you are anthromorphizing the electorate too much. The "electorate" does not want to achieve anything, there are lots of individual decisions.

  3. First and foremost, due to all of the above the EU elections are seen as a proxy/prediction of how well the government is faring. Have the government party lose the elections, everybody will start predicting their fall in the next national elections. Win them, and the national government will say how their actions have been validated by the electorate.

    Let's not forget, also, that even if it is seen as something far away the EU Parliament has its share of power and influence, and it is not as if a political party is going to say: "Nah, I already have enough power, I do not want any more".

    And, in a cynical note, EU MP positions are useful for a party leadership to "remove" internal opposition. That other party leader that opposed you and now is left with nothing to do (except to talk and scheme with party members all day long!)? Send him to Europe with a nice salary and things to do, in the hope that he finds that position more comfortable than yours. That "old guard" member that can claim to the press that "in my times we would not have done things this way"? Send him there too, so he can say whatever he wants with no "local" reporters around.


1And that also may affect strategic voting. Someone may chose to vote, say, Labour over Green Party in a MP election because they know that there is no way for the Green Party winning the most votes in the district, but may chose to vote the Green Party for EUMP because, with 10 positions being elected in the district, there is a bigger chance of one or two Green Party candidates getting elected.

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