The crisis amplifies an already mainstreamed Euroscepticism
Scholars agree that euroscepticism in parties, the media and civil society started moving from the fringe into the mainstream at least with the Maastrich treaty, when the European project appeared for the first time to touch upon core aspects of identity, such as citizenship and home affairs, then with the single currency. Ironically, the mobilization effect linked to the constitutional- and Lisbon referenda is seen to have helped make eurosceptic stances more salonfähig.
Views differ as to the extent to which and how the crisis (or the EU response to it) has accelerated this trend or changed its nature, for example inducing more ‘utilitarian’ euroscepticism in social groups previously inclined to ideological adhesion to the European project, such as the educated middle classes in countries like France, Italy, Germany.
In any case, many expect the social impact of the crisis to translate in record-high results for populist, eurosceptic parties, with possible spillovers into EU and national policy-making because of the EP’s role as a tribune. Some have qualifed the 2014 elections as a watershed.
Second order elections
European elections are considered ‘second order elections’, where results are shaped by national government/opposition dynamics and issues rather than an EU-wide confrontation.
Turnout has been falling since the Seventies (from a mean of 61,99% in 1979 to 43% in 2009), and young voter turnout is structurally low – i.e. young voters do not turn out more when becoming older. Scholars from Copenhagen university noted recently on the LSE blog that the percentage of young eligible citizens who vote is only about half of the percentage for middle-aged to old citizens. The current generation of young adults seem to turnout at EP elections 10-15 percentage points less than the baby boomer generation.
Chart: Relationship between age and voter turnout at the 2009 EP elections (source: LSE)
This means that European elections face a structural demographic challenge, as the pre-war and baby-boomer generation account for 40-50 per cent of the electorate in most European countries. Generational replacement alone will decrease voter turnout to EP elections by a couple of percentage points over the next decade.
(this post is the second in a series that looks at public opinion in Europe ahead of the European Elections in 2014)