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Boycott EU vote campaign challenges French voters' sense of duty

Boycott EU vote campaign challenges French voters' sense of duty
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Even in vote-conscious France, in the EU elections apathy rules.

The proportion of French people who abstained last time matches the six out of ten in European countries who are disinterested in this week’s vote, according to one poll.

The survey by Ipsos MORI of nearly 9,000 people in 12 EU countries found 62 percent were either “not at all” or “not so much” interested in the May 22-25 vote, which will decide the make-up of the European Parliament – and influence the leadership of the European Union – for the next five years.

Although France is a founding member of the EU and plays a central role in the bloc, turnout for the last European Parliamentary elections in 2009 was just 40.63 percent.

Some Parisians insist they will turn out on Sunday.

“Yes absolutely. Because it is a citizen’s duty. We have the right to vote in a democracy. So you should not abuse it because then, you would no longer have a democracy,” said Xavier Garcia, sitting in a café.

“For me it’s very important – anything which leads to an opening up to Europe and the world,” another voter, Annie Fèvre, agreed.

This year there is an organised campaign to boycott the vote in France – hardly a boost for the European Parliament’s legitimacy.

Many, and not only outside the French capital, feel disaffected with politics and the EU.

“This year I am not going to vote, because we haven’t had any results. There is a great deal of unemployment. There is a substantial financial crisis and no-one has done enough to resolve these big problems either in France or in the rest of Europe. We are fed up and we do not want to vote anymore,” said Sophie LeBas, sitting in the sun in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Opinion polls have put the anti-EU, anti-immigration Front National (FN) in the lead for this election. An Ifop survey published on May 16 gave the FN a score of 23 percent, four times higher than its result last time – a potential bombshell for the political mainstream.

“What I hope is that if we have a eurosceptic vote big enough it will wake people up those whose responsibility it is to talk about Europe,” said Anne Houtman, the European Commission’s Head of Representation in France.

Behind the Front National in the polls come the opposition centre-right, followed by President Hollande’s ruling socialists in third place.

France has had a warm spell recently. Good weather can bring out more people to vote – but in France it is not tipped to last through the weekend.