horz line

Euro Unmuddle

photo: brasserie zever

Saturday night at Alésia.

Polling Station 14–55

Paris:– Monday, 14. June 2004:– The only election I ever organized was the one to choose the winner of this magazine's fabulous bumper–sticker slogan contest. I write this is to show that I'm not a big expert in this area.

But I have a feeling that my peers in the news business don't have a very clear idea of what's going on either. To them holding an election simultaneously in 25 countries with something near 350 million registered voters, with hundreds of political groups vying for office – they must think it's as easy as frying an egg.

Maybe they're thinking about the Euro football tournament. It has only required Portugal to ready a bunch of stadiums andphoto: cinema mistral put a lot of police and the army on overtime, and get ready for some wild football fans, plus a small army of the press and a contingent of Europe's usual pickpockets. Football makes zillions so if it costs billions, so what? Portugal is doing it for money as well as glory.

So I think, mobilizing 350 million civilians to go out and vote for something as abstract to most of them as the European parliament probably seems, is a big deal. Very few countries are ever called upon to stage one of these mega–elections and getting a community of countries to do it is nothing much short of a miracle.

How its done with a 30–party 'system,' without conventions, and with few voting machines, over several time zones, over a couple of days, with minimal advertising, with a campaign limited to two weeks, hardly any TV coverage – and then the final results are available two hours after polls close. None of it is your usual Euro–muddle.

The Euro Campaign

The final date for the registration of candidates for the European elections was on Friday, 28. May. This was followed by a weekend of peace before the 'official' campaign was to begin on Monday, 31. May. In its edition on Friday, Le Parisien noted the deadline for candidates. After the weekend, Monday's edition had no news at all about the elections.

Friday's coverage was on page six, and briefly summed up how many candidates there were to be elected. Mention was also made of the six new voting districts but there was no map for voter orientation, no details at all about this new feature. The paper also mentioned that there would be a lot of new parties nobody had ever heard of before. In all, the paper said there would be about 160 lists of candidates, running in France's six new regions.

The French broadcast authority sets aside TV–airtime for the political parties, but with some slight favor given to parties that are already represented in the national parliament. These political ads began on Monday, 31. May, following the evening news on the state channels.

It does not seem to be a 'rule,' but it seemed as if the parties were given a generic film crew, that exclusively produced low–grade political commercials with poor video, poor sound, no graphics and horrible music. These rolled on night after night, and by the end of the campaign they even included plugs by marginal anti–European parties and hopeful royalists. The best clips were terrible and the worst ones were like ads heralding not voting.

Meanwhile, somewhat out of sight, the major political parties held a few public meetings around France, usually for the already converted. One minuscule party with a TV–ad, asked its potential supporters to print the ballot from their Web site because they couldn't afford to print it themselves.

Another 'rule' says the state will pick up some of the tab for a campaign if the party polls three percent or more. This is encouraging and resulted in there being 28 party lists for Paris voters to consider.

There is a political class in France. Regardless of background people who will be politicians start their learning process at the pre–kindergarten stage. By the time they are wearing long pants and dresses they can talk by the kilometre. This fills up a lot time that the 'public information' shows on radio and TV occupy. The only politician who wastes this time is Jean–Marie Le Pen. He uses it to denounce the 'unfair' electoral rules.

During the campaign, the heavy hitters from the Socialist and UMP parties had one main argument. The Socialistsphoto: chope daguerre said that the vote would be one 'against' the government, like the outcome in recent regional elections. Everybody who spoke for the majority UMP said that it would be no such thing.

But for its TV–ads, the Socialists hammered away at their 'Europe sociale' idea – which suggested that Europe wouldn't be 'sociale' at all if the 'liberals' won. In French–speak, 'liberals' are true–blue conservatives. Meanwhile the UMPs did what they could to avoid losing badly. They said they had 'clear convictions.'

The centre–liberal party, UDF, concentrated on saying that France 'needs' Europe. This makes sense because this party's stiffest opponent is its nominal ally, the UMP, which is trying to destroy the UMP leader, François Bayrou. He keeps on refusing to roll over and play dead.

The only party to run a pan–European campaign were the greens, or 'Les Verts.' Daniel Cohn–Bendit, not a candidate, campaigned non–stop from Ireland to Estonia and from Malta to Finland.

In France there are seven parties covering the spectrum from extreme– right to extreme–left, and holding positions on either side of the centre. For the European elections the traditional parties were joined by 21 other 'lists' of candidates; These included the Democratic Espéranto party, the Euro–Palestine party, and anti–European parties.

The official campaign ended on Friday, 11. June – after two weeks of fairly complete confusion. If there were European issues that voters should have been aware of, they remained a mystery.

Euro Results

How many voted in 25 European countries is not an easy number to find. How many were eligible to vote is another mystery even if the figure of 'nearly 350 million' appears here and there. As in France, the abstention rate is as prominent as if somebody voted for it. Exceptions were Belgium and Luxembourg where voting is mandatory, and both countries had abstention rates of less than 10 percent.

With the addition on ten new countries to the European Union a few weeks ago, as of this election the number of seats up for grabs has been reduced from 788 to 732.

It appears as if right–wing parties have retained the slight majority they had in the last Euro parliament. There is an undefined group called 'autres' with 69 seats, placed on the right's side of the half–circle, which the right shares with the 'sovereignists' and the 'Euro–skeptics.'

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