While Slovaks might benefit from voter fatigue, having just voted in a presidential election in April, the low turnout among the new EU states indicates that their endorsement of EU accession in referendums was due more to their perceptions of what the EU symbolizes (prosperity) than to their approval of its ideological principles (democratic participation of its members in the decision-making process). It is tempting to speak of a "democratic deficit" and doing so may be warranted. However, the blame is not to be entirely laid at the door of the "new" Europeans. The low (albeit somewhat less spectacularly so) turnout in the 15 "old" EU members demonstrates that voters are simply unaware of the extended powers of the European Parliament and how much these prerogatives already affect their daily lives. And the fault for failing to clarify that lies with their respective governments.
Not that the incumbent officials were not penalized by voters. After absenteeism, this is indeed the second common trait between "new" and "old" Europeans. But the powers that be were sanctioned for the wrong reason. Instead of perceiving the Europarliament ballot as an opportunity to send to Brussels and Strasbourg those most knowledgeable on European affairs, in most places the vote was little more than a showdown between incumbents and the opposition on domestic issues. This was not entirely unexpected, for due to unawareness of what the tasks of Europarliament are, most Europeans both "old" nor "new" yielded to the temptation to transform the elections into a sort of by-election and prelude to parliamentary elections in their own countries -- and incumbent governments seldom win by-elections. They failed to do so only in a few places, notably in Greece; in Cyprus, where voters appeared to give the thumbs-up to the government's rejection of the UN blueprint for the island's reunification; in Luxembourg; in Spain, where the new government's decision to withdraw Spanish soldiers from Iraq probably counted most; to a lesser extent in Belgium; and, surprisingly enough, in Slovakia. It must, however, be borne in mind that a 16.95 turnout tells nothing about how Slovaks might vote the next time around. Otherwise, candidates from ruling parties lost everywhere, from Warsaw to Prague, from Budapest to Ljubljana, and in the three Baltic capitals.
At first sight, the expanded (from 626 to 732 seats) European Parliament will not look essentially different from the outgoing legislature. It will be still dominated by the center-right European People's Party (EPP), with the Socialists as the second-largest faction and the Liberal Democrats third. Yet, this "X-ray" may be misleading. Among parties affiliated with the EPP, one finds many populists and/or "Euroskeptics" of one shade or another. That is certainly the case of the Czech Civic Democratic Party, which won a plurality of the 24 Czech votes; of the Hungarian Alliance of Young Democrats-Civic Democratic Party (FIDESZ), which likewise won a plurality of the Hungarian vote; or of the League of Polish Families, which placed second in elections in Poland (the most clearly anti-EU Polish formation, Self-Defense, fared less well than predicted by pollsters and won six out of the 54 seats to which Poland is entitled in the enlarged Europarliament). To these one must add the unreformed Czech communists, who are strongly anti-European and who placed second in the Czech ballot.
It could have been worse: in Great Britain, the moral victor of the elections was the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose platform calls for withdrawal from the EU altogether, and which won 17 percent of the vote. But it could have been better, as this is not how one would expect the eight former communist countries to mark their return to European democracy.