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EU Elections: Voter turnout was just 50% last time - will it rise?

A woman casts her vote in the European Parliament elections in a polling station in Hlusovice, Olomouc region, Czech Republic, Friday, June 7, 2024. (Ludek Perina/CTK via AP)
A woman casts her vote in the European Parliament elections in a polling station in Hlusovice, Olomouc region, Czech Republic, Friday, June 7, 2024. (Ludek Perina/CTK via AP) Copyright Ludek Perina/AP
Copyright Ludek Perina/AP
By Sergio Cantone
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According to the Euronews Polls Centre young voters could raise the turnout in France and Germany.

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Over 350 million voters are eligible, but how many will actually vote this time?

In 2019 the majority of them voted, but only just. The official figure was 50.66 percent across all the 27 states, which was the highest since the 1994 elections.

The abstention rate is closely followed as, to some extent, it can indicate what the level of apathy and disenchantment with EU politics might be.

And if it falls below the all-important 50 percent figure this year it would be a blow to the EU and those who support it.

“We can't forget that we're not talking about one European election, but 27 national ones," Tomasz Kanievcky, a Euronews Polling Center analyst, told Euronews.

"Therefore, the approach to abstentionism will certainly differ according to the countries in which these elections occur, and according to the current issues at stake."

According to the Euronews Polls Centre, young voters could raise the turnout in France and Germany. But these young voters could be tempted to vote for the far right. Another example is Italy, where abstentionism could be significant.

Voters in six European Union countries were casting their ballots on Saturday: Italy, Slovakia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and Malta the EU’s smallest member.

Voting has now finished in the Netherlands, and Ireland but the first results will only begin to come in from Sunday evening.

The Netherlands' public broadcaster NOS's poll of 20,000 voters has already predicted that the centre-left alliance would secure eight out of 31 European Parliament seats in the country.

Observers say approach to abstentionism will 'certainly differ'

In Cyprus, concern is growing over people who are not voting as well as an increase in blank and invalid ballots from those who do vote.

The issues are linked to a local government reform that requires voters to cast between six to ten ballots, a complexity that has frustrated both voters and election participants.

In response, Cypriot President Nicos Christodoulides encouraged voters to turn out. “The European elections concern us all. A massive turnout will send a strong message about the importance we attach to a stronger, more resilient, more strategically autonomous, more united, and of course more efficient Europe," he stated.

In the last European elections in 2019, the highest abstention rate was recorded in Slovakia. It remains to be seen whether, following the assassination attempt on anti-European left-wing populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, the trend will be reversed.

Far-right, populist parties set to see significant gains?

The elections are set to be one of the most controversial and contested in its history by Eurosceptic, populist, and far-right parties.

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“It will be an existential fight,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and outgoing free-market liberal member of parliament who has been in the thick of EU politics for over a quarter century.

It will pit “those who want less Europe and, then, those political forces who understand that in the world of tomorrow, you need a far more integrated European Union to defend the interests of the Europeans” Verhofstadt added.

Since the last EU election in 2019, populist, far-right, and extremist parties have taken over governments in three EU nations and are part of governing coalitions in several others.

Far-right parties in France, Belgium, Austria, and Italy are seen as frontrunners in the EU elections.

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The vote is the second-biggest exercise in democracy behind the elections in India, as the 27-nation bloc will be picking 720 parliamentarians to serve them over the next five years with decisive votes.

Germany

A shift in German law has granted voting rights to Germans as young as 16 which is a two year drop in the age requirement.

This expands the pool of potential voters by roughly 1.5 million. Traditionally, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party performed best with younger voters.

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However, a shift has been underway of late in Germany, as in much of Europe, which has seen young voters move towards right-wing parties.

The shift and trove of new voters could give AfD a boost after scandals have dropped them in recent polling.

Munich, Germany, Friday June 7, 2024
Munich, Germany, Friday June 7, 2024Sven Hoppe/(c) Copyright 2024, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten

Many speculate that EU and domestic issues will increase voter turnout in Germany. The polarized political situation, if it drives turnout, will likely negatively affect the government-leading SPD, as well as the Greens, while boosting the opposition CDU-CSU.

Turnout for EU elections has traditionally been lower than national elections in Germany. Many expect a significant increase in participation but still don’t expect it to match the 2021 national vote.

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France

In France, the vote is between Europe and France—a uniquely French perspective for a European Parliament election.

More than half of French voters will be casting ballots based on domestic issues, largely a product of motivations from the right.

Meanwhile, President Macron has been a key voice in the greater pro-European movement, putting him drastically at odds with many French voters.

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People walk past a row of campaign posters for the upcoming European election in Courbevoie, west of Paris, Thursday, June 6, 2024.
People walk past a row of campaign posters for the upcoming European election in Courbevoie, west of Paris, Thursday, June 6, 2024.Michel Euler/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Key to the turnout count will be young French voters, who have polled consistently in favour of Macron’s rival RN.

If the youth vote turns out, then expect RN to match what the polls have been telling us: a resounding victory with double the support of Macron’s Renew list.

Italy

Italy has one of the fastest-growing rates (relative to previous elections) of voter abstention from EU elections, after Portugal.

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Increased Euroscepticism in Italy could further lower the vote count. However, the position of Prime Minister Girorgia Meloni as a European force could slow the rate of decline among right-wing, Europe-hesitant voters.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, speaks with Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni during a round table meeting at an EU Summit in Brussels, on March 21, 2024.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, speaks with Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni during a round table meeting at an EU Summit in Brussels, on March 21, 2024.Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

Hungary

Relative to National votes in Hungary, lower participation is expected for the EU vote. Lower turnouts in Hungary traditionally benefit Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, who maintain a motivated base with strong mobilisation capabilities.

The centre and left, however, could see a boost from Budapest, home to more than 10 percent of the population.

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Budapest voters will be also casting ballots for their mayor.

Greece

While Greece has “compulsory voting,” the law is unenforced. How Greeks plan to vote is not clear.

The postal ballot implementation was not a success in Greece, casting doubts on participation rates.

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A man stands at an election kiosk of the ruling party of New Democracy in Athens, Greece, Friday, June 7, 2024.
A man stands at an election kiosk of the ruling party of New Democracy in Athens, Greece, Friday, June 7, 2024.Thanassis Stavrakis/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

One set of voters to track in Greece are young voters, who have lately broken out strongly in favour of the centre-right (ND/EPP). If their turnout continues to grow, ND could be in for another successful election.

Portugal

Portugal had Western Europe’s lowest turnout rate in 2019, just 30% Following a snap parliamentary election in March in which only 59% participated, weary would-be voters may stay at home.

But those who voted for the Socialist party's last time, and only narrowly lost, might just be more motivated to vote. The Democratic Alliance won with 80 seats and the Socialist party was a close second with 78 seats.

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Poland

Poland is set to vote for the third time in less than a year—following national and regional elections since October.

In the more recent regional elections, voter turnout was lower than expected, especially in urban districts.

If this trend continues, it could most negatively impact the centre-right, government-leading Civic Coalition (KO).

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Any blow in turnout to the KO is an automatic boon for their far-right rival, the Law and Justice party. PiS barely edged out KO in the regional elections voting share.

With polls showing a neck-and-neck race, any drop in turnout could give PiS the boost it needs.

Slovakia

Slovakia had the lowest share of voter turnout in 2019, with just 22.7% of voters participating. But in 2023’s Slovakia's parliamentary election, more than 68% of eligible voters turned out.

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With polarisation at a peak in Slovakia following the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico, many expect turnout to be higher than the 2019 mark.

Still, given the subdued nature of the campaigns following the assassination attempt, voter excitement isn’t very strong in Slovakia.

Don’t expect over 60% participation but expect a better showing than 2019.

A woman prepares her ballots for the European Parliament elections at a polling station in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, June 7, 2024
A woman prepares her ballots for the European Parliament elections at a polling station in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, June 7, 2024Katerina Sulova/AP

Czech Republic

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Czech voters have historically not turned out well for EU elections. The country is largely considered a Eurosceptic one, leading to a drop in turnout relative to their national votes.

However, 2024 could shift things in Czechia. Campaigns are reporting stronger than usual interest in European affairs and politics.

Meanwhile, opposition campaigns are launching strong attacks on ruling coalition parties, trying to make the European vote a referendum on the national leaders.

Romania

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Interest in European politics is at an all-time high with young voters in Romania. According to the EU’s barometer survey this spring, more than 75% of under 30-year-olds in Romania intend to vote—the highest rate of any country in Europe.

Right-wing parties have become social media focal points in Romania. If young voters do indeed turn out as expected, it could be a massive gain for the far-right AUR and other right-wing parties. 

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