Here’s a question that troubles the minds of Romanians (at least of those that know what the EU is about). The th!nkers who posted their thoughts in the last days seem to share a general feeling of personal involvement in these elections, which stems from the realities in their communities and the countries they come from. My posts this month have been rather pessimistic and I have to confess I continue to have this feeling as the elections get closer and closer. And here is why.
I gave you a glimpse of what the electoral campaign looks like here in Romania, which is the newest EU member (together with Bulgaria) and where the pro-European feeling was reaching record scores in the opinion polls prior to the accession. The situation has not changed too much. In the last week, there has been absolutely no debate in the Romanian media or between candidates on European issues. On the contrary, even the dialogue between candidates has a very poor quality. For instance, a social-democrat candidate, Corina Cretu, was here in Cluj two days ago and held a meeting with the locals in the campaign tent of her party, situated downtown. All she did was attack the only candidate from Cluj, the democrat-liberal Rares Niculescu, accusing him of lying when speaking about how he will bring European funds in Cluj county, because some members of the EPP (the Democrat-Liberal Party is affiliated to the EPP) actually made proposals for cutting the funds given to Romania.
The social-democrats in Cluj had another very EU-related campaign action last week, when they started giving as promotional material brooms, hoes and solar protectors for cars, instead of the classic pens and lighters. Each of these “tools” had its own message. The broom was for “Let’s clean up!”, the hoe was for “We work together!” and the solar protector was for “You got burnt with them, we protect you!”. As you can see, absolutely nothing to do with anything related to the EU.
Yesterday evening, I heard a knock on my door. It was a girl in her 20’s, wearing a red social-democrat T-shirt. My first reaction when I saw her was “Oh God!”. Not because she was pretty or something, but because it’s my first door-to-door experience in an electoral campaign. I apologized and I asked her to go on. She said “We are here to invite to come and vote and to give you this…” and she handed me a flyer in which I’m told that the social-democrats can make Romania stronger and that they support Romanian agriculture and cheap food. Together with this flyer she gave me a card with the contact details of a local social-democrat leader, member of the Local Council of Cluj. What could the connection with the EP elections be? It would have been much more useful if she gave me a solar protector for my car…
I got another very EU-related promotional material from the democrat-liberals. They gave me a CD which had on its cover Rares Niculescu’s promises. The same old empty talk about European money and national dignity. The CD inside had on it romantic old music sang by Stela Popescu, a well known Romanian actrice and occasional singer, very dear to the Romanian public. (I don’t have the CD with me now, but here is a picture of the CD and the songs I found online.)
Der Spiegel published an article about the most exotic candidates that might end up in the EP. Of course, the two Romanian candidates taken into consideration were the former shepherd Gigi Becali and the daughter of the president, Elena Basescu. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think no other candidate and his/her ideas got any coverage in the European media. And guess why? Because absolutely no relevant ideas for the EP elections were expressed.
In the light of the things I presented above, I wonder what is the use of having European parties, a strategy of communication from the European Commission, websites dedicated to the communication between EU officials and citizens etc… In general, the attempt to bring EU topics closer to citizens, especially to the young generation, by transforming the Internet in a tool of communication is a good one and I believe that in the long run it might show some success. However, the main problem is that the communication efforts made by the EU as a whole do not have a real life reflection.
For instance, take the Facebook applications related to the EP elections. I found them quite entertaining, but as a voter I still don’t see what’s the relation between the questions asked in order to create a badge with the user’s position on EU-relevant topics and the issues debated (or better said, nod debated) in this electoral campaign. No issue such as border control, energy or the environment has ever been discussed by candidates during this electoral campaign.
I believe that one of the main reasons for the general apathy surrounding the EP elections is the current electoral system used here in Romania, which brings me to the proposal I made last month, when I was speaking of a new single European electoral system. The current closed list PR system basically reduces the degree of competitiveness of these elections to the maximum. The reason is that the names of at least 26 of the next 33 future Romanian MEP’s are already known, based on the positions that candidates occupy on the lists. The first 9 democrat-liberals, the first 9 social-democrats, the first 5 liberals and the first 3 Hungarian candidates can be sure of their seats. The real candidates in these elections are the first 2-3 candidates after these safe positions; they are the ones that have to campaign hard and work for the maximization of the score of their party, if they want to gain a seat. Also, the two independents are also question marks and their results will influence the final distribution of the mandates. The realities during this campaign come as evidence for what I’ve just said. The top candidates of each party major party I’ve mentioned have been the least visible (not to say invisible), probably with the exception of the liberal candidates.
To sum up this rather pessimistic post about the forthcoming elections, I can say I envy those of you who managed to find a personal connection between their involvement with these elections and what is happening in their own states. The EU is still very heterogeneous and this is obvious in the way politicians, parties and citizens connect with it. My feeling is that the turnout in Romania will not be higher than 20%, but that’s not even half of the problem. The biggest problem is that not even half of those who will go out and vote will have a clue about the EU, the EP or European issues. Moreover, many of those who will choose not to vote will come from the group of people who hold information about the EU, but will be unable to choose from any of the candidates, because none of them said anything about any relevant topic.