Turnout in Croatia’s first European Union (EU) parliamentary elections on April 14 was a meager 21 percent. The low turnout is just the latest example of the disconnect that exists between EU decision makers in Brussels and average voters in the individual member states.
The fact that less than a quarter of people in Croatia decided to go to the polls is indicative of the continued disillusionment with the EU across Europe even in Croatia, a nation poised to join the EU on July 1.
The 754-seat European parliament is the only directly elected decision body of the EU. As such, it represents the sole opportunity for voters across Europe to have a direct say in policymaking in Brussels. It is also the weakest decision-making body in the EU. Although successive treaties have marginally given the European Parliament more power, it still lacks some of the basic legislative powers that are found in national parliaments. For instance, it does not even have its own right of initiative to propose legislation—it has to formally request the commission to do so on its behalf.
While the Brussels-based EU political elite continue in their own self-assurance that “ever closer union” is not only what the people of Europe want but what they need, voter turnout trends tell a very different story. Since the first elections for EU Parliament in 1979 garnered a 62 percent turnout across member states, voter turnout has decreased in every subsequent European parliamentary election.
In February, Italian voters showcased their displeasure for the EU by voting for a political party started by a comedian in an election that was an embarrassment for former EU Commissioner and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.
Indeed, the EU’s own recent opinion data show that support for the EU is lukewarm at best. Only 33 percent of Europeans say they trust the EU, and 29 percent of Europeans say the EU conjures up a “very negative image” for them.
The economic crisis still smoldering in Cyprus gave Croatian voters a stark reminder that further European political and economic integration is unlikely to pay dividends. The low turnout indicates that most Croatians have gotten the message.