Elections & Voting
2009 Euro elections: When politics and democracy go their separate ways, apathy and cynicism set in
By Chronis Polychroniou
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 16, 2009, 00:20

Results of the June 2009 Euro elections conformed to most expectations about the world�s most boring and least significant political contest and produced no real surprises or major deviations from the elections held five years ago. As in the 2004 elections, apathy, low turnout, and the continuous rise of extremist and fringe political parties were by far the most striking features of the 2009 elections.

The anticipated high abstention rate (more than 55 percent in total across the EU) is a clear sign that Europeans regard voting in EU elections a highly meaningless act of political participation. And they are, of course, quite right about that. The EU is annoyingly undemocratic in nature and scope. Its political structures thrive on centralization and bureaucratization and EU policies are dictated by individuals and classes who cater exclusively to the logic of markets and to the interests of corporations.

This is why political candidates running in Euro elections never talk about Europe. There is nothing to talk about the EU, aside from its single-minded commitment to the neoliberal economic dogma. Furthermore, when candidates get elected to the European parliament they lack the power to bring about any changes. Indeed, where else in the democratic world would we find a political organization whose sole purpose is to advance the goal of neoliberal restructuring (the underlying rationale for the continuing EU enlargement process) and whereby freely elected representatives in a forum commonly known as the parliament are deprived of the legislative power to initiate institutional and policy changes?

If the European Parliament has made a mockery of democratic institutions, the executive branch of the EU is the epitome of a despotic institution. The president of the European Commission, who since 2004 has been Jose Manuel Barroso, a neoliberal quack who had served for two years as Portugal�s prime minister, supported enthusiastically Bush�s war in Iraq and then resigned in order to accept the post of the president of the European Commission, is not elected by the people but chosen instead behind closed doors in the European Council, a political body which consists of the heads of state of the EU�s member states. The president of the European Commission not only introduces policy portfolios for each member of the European Commission but determines the commission�s policy agenda and reserves even the right to fire its members.

So, when European citizens are asked every five years to go to the polls and vote for members of the European Parliament, the question is who is fooling whom? European citizens may not know, perhaps, exactly how the institutions of the EU operate, but they do know that electing members for the European Parliament is a farce of grand proportions �- and thus they choose to abstain.

The continuous rise of right-wing extremist and fringe political parties, the mirror image of political apathy and abstention in the current political landscape of Europe, also speaks loudly and clearly, but in a perverse way, to the betrayal of the European vision and the general disillusionment of citizens with established politics in general. With record unemployment rates, widespread social malaise, rising waves of crime and dramatic increases in illegal immigrants, racism, xenophobia and violence will make their presence felt increasingly in a Europe falling apart at the seams, while the percentage of citizens abstaining from the normal channels of political participation also increases exponentially.

The June 2009 Euro election results produced another but less significant outcome: a decisive defeat dealt to the socialists by the parties of the centre-right. The exception to the rule was Greece. In a record low turnout, a criminally corrupt and incompetent conservative government was trounced by the equally, in the past, criminally corrupt and blatantly opportunistic socialists, who made a comeback after having lost every election for the past five years. Everywhere else, socialists have every reason to wonder what went wrong.

However, the defeat of the socialists in the 2009 Euro elections is not a surprising development and it certainly represents far more than �a sad evening for social democracy in Europe,� as Martin Schultz, a German lawmaker and head of the socialist bloc, put it. Indeed, it is high time that European socialists have a rude awakening and come to terms with what the British political philosopher John Gray declared long ago and what the general public in Europe apparently already knows. Social democracy is dead. It truly died long ago and the prospects of its resurrection are certainly dim as long as the anti-democratic, neoliberal Europeanization project continues unabated.

Chronis Polychroniou is an author and journalist and writes frequently on global economic, political, and social affairs.

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