And the winner is... It's time for the results of elections affecting 491 million people. Should anyone in NZ care?

The biggest trans-national elections in history have been held over the last few days – not that you get to read much about this in the New Zealand media.

To be fair, even devout European election followers struggle to explain why these elections matter to people living here in Europe, let alone have any importance for people elsewhere in the world.

The European Union has not been particularly good at galvanizing people into democratic participation (nor is it very good at exciting observers): More than 375 million citizens are eligible to vote, but fewer than half were expected to bother casting ballots over the last few days.

The European Union continues to be cheerfully ignored by most Europeans – except at the times when they create mischief by rejecting EU treaties in national referendums.

Perhaps to boost voter attendance – and to save on the costs of holding elections – some nations have combined these elections with votes for local government.

Here in Denmark, they have thrown in a referendum on the succession law for Denmark's royal family. (The royal family in which the Crown Prince married the Tasmanian real estate agent, who became Princess Mary.)

The referendum asks whether the eldest child of the Monarch should inherit the crown, regardless of gender. Right now, girls get skipped unless they have no brothers. (The British royal family is the same).

Nobody in egalitarian Denmark has seriously campaigned for a "No" vote, so the referendum comes down to a fight between those who vote "Yes" – for gender equality – and those who return blank ballots, to show that they want larger constitutional reform.

Tthe referendum was threatened with failure because of apathy: it required a 40% "Yes" vote to pass, and not enough people were planning to vote in the European elections that the referendum's tacked onto. The Danish PM, late today (on the day of polling) appealed to Danes to do their duty, and it appears that they listened: there was a last-minute flood of people to the polls, and the referendum's set to pass.

The argument for Europeans to vote in these elections is that the European Parliament is responsible for somewhere between ten-and-twenty percent of the laws in Europe (though Euro-skeptics like to claim the figure is much higher). The parliament wields considerable power: it is not in hock to any executive, and actually shapes legislation. Some of that legislation is important: the EU's foreign aid budget is the biggest in the world.

For us outsiders, though, the elections are really only interesting in terms of highlighting the issues and political direction of countries that remain important to New Zealand.

The European elections are about national politics, and in many places, dissatisfaction with the status quo. The trend in early results is to the right. In Britain, Labour is being punished by the electorate – something which will further hurt Gordon Brown's chances of surviving as leader until the next election. Ireland and Latvia, two of the EU countries worst-hit by the global financial crisis, are punishing candidates from their sitting governments, too. Greece, Hungary, Spain and the Czech Republic are expected to do the same. Slovakia's ruling left-wing government dominated the poll in that new EU member state, but with a turnout of less than 20 percent.

The winners across Europe were expected to be nationalist and anti-European politicians. The Netherlands posted results earlier than most: Anti-immigrant leader Geert Wilders' Freedom Party came second with four of the 25 seats, one fewer than the main party in the government. Wilders is critical of Islam and has been banned from travelling to the United Kingdom for inflammatory rhetoric.

For tiny trading nation New Zealand, a shift toward greater protectionism and nationalism across Europe is not great news.

It is definitely not nearly as exciting as the glitz and glamour of Eurovision, but the European parliamentary elections matter – slightly – more than we might think.

Comments (5)

by DeepRed on June 09, 2009

Interestingly, the Swedish Pirate Party made a surprise win, with 1 seat in the Euro Parlt. With the possibility of another seat if special votes count in their favour.

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