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EUROPEAN ELECTIONS AFTER EASTERN ENLARGEMENT - Taking a closer look at the 2004 elections

“Decisions taken by the European Union are controversial. That’s why the European Parliament’s role within the EU as a forum for discussing possible courses of action is so important.” The aforementioned quote is taken form the “Europe Counts” website, which was set up in 2004 before the European Parliament elections, in order to encourage people to vote.

Between the 10th and 13th of June 2004, more than 340,000,000 people were eligible to vote, in the largest transnational direct election in history. In twenty-five countries voters went to the polls to elect representatives for the European Parliament. For the ten new member states, it was their first time to have their voices heard at European level. Since this election was so immense in dimension, it was absolutely essential to analyse the meaning and significance of this process. A research team within the EU-funded NoE CONNEX has recently published a first systematic and encompassing study on the 2004 European Parliament Elections. The researchers addressed the impact of this process and questioned for instance whether elections, as an element of the European project, were helping to develop a European identity as well as providing a direct channel of representation and accountability. The study is based on results from surveys which were carried out in 24 of the 25 counties which took part in the elections, and they analysed aspects such as manifestos and media content. The papers in the book "European Elections after Eastern Enlargement" edited by Michael Marsh, Slava Mikhaylov and Hermann Schmitt are a collection which materialized at a CONNEX state of the art conference in 2005. The conference was titled “A European Public Sphere: How much of it do we have and how much do we need?” and it was attended by scholars from all over Europe, who addressed this general theme. The following are some of the noteworthy empirical findings which could be derived from the study: First, news coverage of the elections tends to be domestically focused, and domestic concerns still determine party choice, furthermore the support for radical right parties is motivated by the same kind of ideological and pragmatic considerations as support for established parties. Secondly researchers ascertained that expansion has reduced average levels of trust between people, and that while dissatisfaction with the EU is driven to an important degree by economic concerns (particularly in the new accession states), more political considerations are also important. Then it was also interesting for researchers to assess the behaviour of voters in the newer and in the older member states. Most of the papers contrasted the varied voting behaviour and asked whether there is really one European electorate, or many. The answer here is not surprising: in general there are important differences between new accession states and older member states that should spark further research. Link to book: http://www.mzes.uni-mannheim.de/projekte/typo3/site/index.php?id=597 CONNEX: http://www.connex-network.org

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Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, United Kingdom