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The European Parliament has a participation problem. Just 43.9% of voters across the 28 nations of the EU bothered to turn out in the May elections. Even that low number was greeted with some relief in Brussels – it represented a tiny increase after turnout had dropped in every EP election since the first in 1979 – when 61.99% showed up to vote.

Voter apathy seems to be highest in central Europe: in Slovakia just 13% voted; next door, 19.5 percent of Czechs cast their votes; and less than a quarter of Slovene or Polish voters showed up.

Is it time to boost turnout by introducing mandatory participation in European elections? Is democracy too important to be an optional activity for European citizens? Should voting be a duty as well as just a right? Or is it undemocratic to oblige people to vote?

Some EU countries already have compulsory voting. That helped Belgium and Luxembourg top the turnout rankings with 90% in the May election, although in Greece (58.2%) and Cyprus (43.97%) the legal obligation to vote had less effect. Around the would around two-dozen countries have mandatory voting from Australia to North Korea, Brazil to Singapore.

We asked two parliamentarians for their thoughts on this year’s voter turnout, and whether it’s time to consider compulsory voting. Here’s the response from German Green MEP Barbara Lochbihler:

And from Nikos Chrysogelos, a Greek Green former MEP, who left the parliament after the May vote:

What do YOU think? Should politicians engage more with voters to boost interest in elections? Or is mandatory voting the best way to broaden public engagement in politics and tackle surges by fringe parties? Does obligatory participation in elections just produce random votes by disinterested people? Or is pressure needed to tackle voter indifference, even if they simply vote blank once they get to the polling station? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – European Parliament


62 comments Post a commentcomment


  1. avatar
    Paul X

    You can have compulsory voting just as long as you give the people the option of putting a cross against “none of the above”

    One faceless politician is the same any other so you cant force people to vote for one just to try and claim some legitimacy for their policies

  2. avatar
    Julian Nicolas Georgiou

    Maybe if voting was more in the style of direct democracy rather than voting for people that we don’t know and judge them by the way they look in their suits.

  3. avatar
    Karel Van Isacker

    Maybe the EU/EC/EP should first wonder and ask themselves: when did we vote to get a Schultz or a Juncker at the head of the EP/EC? Never.

    • avatar
      Roberto Guerra

      Totally agree with you.
      Greetings from Portugal!

  4. avatar
    Laoi Ó Murchú

    Append tax credits (civic tax breaks) to the act of voting and you’ll have polling rates at least as high as the employment rate…

  5. avatar
    Isaac Gabriella

    very nice……..you’re a voter….you’re a good citizen, you pay your taxes…..what EU done to protect you and promote your interests over Ukraine situation and terrorism in Eastern Europe…..

  6. avatar
    Alex Bell

    Europeans move a lot, first make it possible to vote from anywhere (online) because I repeat – we move a lot

  7. avatar
    George Danieldsg

    Compulsory is undemocratic itself.The effort must be to persuade citizens it is worthy to vote with shound politics.Today European Parliament is a decorative body away from european citizens interests and companies its true job do not vote.

  8. avatar
    Zbigniew Jankowski

    The majority of those who do not participate are not from another planet, but have good reasons not to vote. In Poland only abt 24% went to vote!

  9. avatar
    Saviour Cachia

    I have the right to be given all opportunity to vote, but then it is my life and I do what I want. Voting or no voting cause qualms all the same, because when you vote to candidates and parties and see they only have it their way, you just ask: why did I bother to vote? perhaps to a elect a group not another and finally they all have one common factor, how to thicken their pockets. And the situation with regard to the European Parliament is really horrendous and archaic. I did vote, but yes I am now question myself, why did I vote. Maybe out of sympathy of some friends that were contested these elections? What is my country gaining with its presence in this European Parliament, not to say the European Union. Oh to judge me completely i just say I am from Malta and very offended by the way the EU and European Parliament are treating my country when it comes to the problem of influx of illegal immigrants. Why is burden sharing not imposed, to look smart with the big countries of the North?

  10. avatar
    Rácz Tivadar

    Give us a reason to go to the elections. The majority of europeans are not believing a word to those, who are supposing to representate them – for right. The present tragedy of repartising functions and jobs is another reason to let the eu-elections going on without any participation.
    However, I was there and gave my vote to those, who I am believing, they could change something. If they would be not reasonable for the next 4 Years, I am going to vote someone else.

  11. avatar
    Cla Carr

    In case they don’t vote, what would be the fine? money or whipping with leather strings ???? Oh God, medieval time is coming soon, I just hope my country will be out for that time….

  12. avatar
    Christina

    I think compulsory voting is a very good idea, but it should come with the possibility of an “abstinence” vote. Also, enabling on-line voting would make it easier for many people to participate in the elections.

  13. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    i think pliticians are afraid of direct democracy!. Why voting every 4 years… why not when I whan!… imagine I vote for something but he does something i don’t like, like puting my money in the banking sistem of his friends, or giving support to israel, then i clik in internet… erase my vote to this party and put it in the other one… so this would give us the power to not be cheated after elections… but obviously politicians would say this is impossible…

  14. avatar
    Patrice Puchaux

    Big question… The creation of a taxe will surely decrease the abstentionism like in Belgium where 95% of people voted. In the same time that will increase credit of populisms.
    Basically I want let people the choice to vote but I am not totally against a tax against abstentionists.

  15. avatar
    David Garrahy

    Up to now, I’ve always been against compulsory voting – thinking that if engagement with democracy is not spontaneous it is useless. However, having seen the system at work in Belgium (and voting myself in it) I changed my mind.

    Lyndon Johnson said, if you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow. Not that I’m suggesting we be quite so invasive with voters. But with the possibility of punishment or fines for not voting, it becomes part of citizen’s daily lives, like enrolling children at school, getting a drivers license etc.

    A compulsory vote does not necessarily mean an uninformed vote, by the way – if you are compelled to vote, you will probably pay a lot more attention to politics.

    Citizens voting in elections is essential for a balanced democracy, reflecting all aspects of society. A compulsory vote, once every two years or so is a small price to pay.

  16. avatar
    Oscar Mangas

    Expand the voting by adapting new technologies rather than forcing people to participate. Voting from home or your mobile will increase the number of voters and will reduce abstention. Why do countries are reluctant to this idea?

  17. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should voting be compulsory in Europe?

    Only if Europe gives the voter the kind of people and party it wants to vote for. To compel citizens to vote for people and parties they don’t want and could never in conscience contemplate giving them such support, would only lead to people being forced to vote for a Hitler character or policy maker against their wishes.

    I do believe that the public should use their vote as that is what democracy is all about, but, to force them to accept a political team against their will is akin to Zimbabwe.

    Please, Debating Europe, ask us questions that intelligent people can seriously answer. And add to this kind of question, ‘would we all prefer Direct Democracy on all issues important to us,’ then, you could add that they should be made to vote in such an instance. Direct Democracy would soon get rid of politicians who have no right to be in any truly accountable parliament. That way we would collectively have the responsibility of running ourselves as all questions posed would be ours to account for, and therefore, yes, we should then be compelled to take up the responsibility of such freedom.

    • avatar
      proactive

      @Catherine- well done! my comment once more sits waiting in the sin bin!

  18. avatar
    Akos Tarkanyi

    Noone asked citizens if they want the Maastricht Treaty and introduction of euro or not. There were only three countries were a referendum was organised about the European Constitution. All three voted against it. Then it was accepted as the Treaty of Lisboa with practically the same content – and without any referendum, except tiny Ireland where a one-sided government propaganda brainwashed them into accepting it. EU is anti-democratic enough already and it constantly goes into that direction. So it would be logical if they made even voting compulsory.

  19. avatar
    Akos Tarkanyi

    And pro-USE EU elite is surprised about the low popularity of EU voting and EU institutions and of the “democratic deficit” ot the EU… What a hipocrisy!

  20. avatar
    Mike Chambers

    Choosing NOT to vote is a human right. If you are forced to vote then the politicians take you for granted. If people can decided to vote or not then the politicians are required to work harder to attract their votes. Forcing people to vote is a breach of their civil liberties. It is strange how ‘Europe’ wants to remove individual freedom, while still maintaining that they are a democracy

  21. avatar
    ObservateurBxl Brabançon

    What’s the utmost important is that the politicians tells the TRUTH and construct for the COMMON GOOD. Otherwise, everything is fucked up !

  22. avatar
    David Fuzzey

    If your union makes voting in the eu rump elections compulsory …. I would NOT vote.

  23. avatar
    nikolas kalaitzidis

    Being a citizen is both a right and a privilege. A citizen should always apply his rights otherwise -low participation e.g- democracy looses orientation and representativity. This should be applicable even more in the …UES. Anytime citizens should be free to vote for blank.

  24. avatar
    Richard Osborne

    Voting should be compulsory, at least then we can be assured of a majority govt. At the moment it’s way to easy for the lunatic fringe to gain seats in govt and influence policy. But in voting, we should also have the right to give a vote of “no confidence”.

  25. avatar
    Dimitrios

    Eventually we all get the kind of democracy we deserve.

    A look into the rhetoric of the recently succesful far-right parties across Europe proves that it came to fill the political vacuum created by citizen’s disengagement with politics and public affairs. Their main tenet is the fault of the current political establishment with no elaborate solutions tfuther that ‘cleansing’ of domestic affairs from migrants.

    On the other hand making voting compulsory wouldn’t bring people back to polling stations. It is only through genuine understanding and consciousness that we can achieve participatory democracy.

  26. avatar
    Jurre

    No.

    1: You can’t force people to vote.
    2: You don’t want people who aren’t interested and know practically nothing about the EU to vote.

  27. avatar
    Goncalosetubal

    Hitler burn the Reichstag. No need for voting.

  28. avatar
    Helena Feio

    Yes, I think so. Then everybody would feel resposible for those who are in charge.

  29. avatar
    Pedro Redondeiro

    I do agree it should be compulsory, however i also agree that there should not exist any type of “punishment” for those who opt to not vote. ;)

  30. avatar
    proactive

    “The conundrum called EU & its nightmarish duplicated voting system!”

    Besides that, there are pro & cons to any compulsory vote. My preference would be ‘compulsory’, like practiced in 22 other countries- better explained here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_voting

    People in dictatorships fight for democracy- once a democracy, people’s lethargy let politicians abolish it. Strange!

    The “EU as is”- could be mistaken as a fata morgana- an illusion of a “direct” democracy far distanced from everyone’s local parliament & control!

    Suggestion: The “local home ballot”- apart from their normal local parties- could just add 3 EU choices like: EU pro, EU skeptic/reform, EU anti. Rendering the existing EU Parliament & EU parties obsolete- searching for & conducting cooperation on a simpler & direct level by the “only willing & cherry pickers”?

    Doesn’t the 43% EU voter participation reflect a general rejection of the present EU design & dream- as hatched by a few since 1947?

    Maybe, all participants on debating Europe could start & indicate when starting their comment- which of the 3 EU choices (aka- only 3 EU parties needed) they support? Expected too much?

    @Oscar Mangas
    E-voting will come- once it is safe enough & fully developed. Check it out:
    http://www.dut.ac.za/node/2899
    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?reload=true&arnumber=4648818

  31. avatar
    Biro Levente

    Just a simple No. Voting should’t be a compulsory. But I sugest some help, stimulation for those who vote. For example some taxe reduction, reduction in paying like difrent type of courses. Yes of course :), it’s need courage to do that, but..good look. Nobody lose, some of them win.

  32. avatar
    Nikolaos Sotirelis

    It should be compulsory the daily and fully informed of the citizens, how much important for their lives, is voting.
    And voting not only for representatives, but almost for anything.
    These days, with such technology, direct democracy isn’t just a dream. It can be a simple process!!!

    • avatar
      crayven

      Hmmm i don’t know how direct democracy would work really.
      I suppose everyone could vote via internet but…hmm…it’s not safe.

  33. avatar
    Adrian Cosmin Pricop

    Yes is too important!( But if we can trust more in politicians we can vote them, but we dont trust them soo we dont vote them.) there is a problem with politician , that is why european dont vote. They dont have a good option or they simple dont thing that by voting they will chose the right person.

  34. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    but if the European Parliament can not ‘legislate what you vote?? It ‘a shame. Do not talk about democracy that tell lies! When men DO NOT ELECTED by anyone and the unquestionable stop destroying peoples then we talk about how to vote and what

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @David Fuzzey
      Well said!

  35. avatar
    crayven

    It could be like it is in Belgium:
    If you sign you will show up, it become compulsory in the day of the vote, if not, it’s not.

    But isn’t it the REAL problem the lack of TRUE OPTIONS?
    Why aren’t parties able to innovate, come up with RADICAL changes or very very different plans.
    Why do you think the nuts from UKIP or Front National won? Because they spew hatred?
    No, because they say “something else” than the old “everything is fine the world is recovering and you will do good if you vote for us”.
    Not even supposed SOCIALIST parties aren’t what they used to.
    Hollande is a spineless coward, cowering to corporate and capitalist interest when in reality he should cut their heads left and right with taxes and regulations.

    I don’t mind if it is compulsory, i always vote.
    I always vote green but where i live they barely get 2-3% so it’s like i am not voting at all.

  36. avatar
    crayven

    THE MAIN problem with the EU is the lack of campaigns promoting it, the lack of interest to combat anti-EU propaganda.
    Take youtube for example. Social media is VERY IMPORTANT now.
    I have seen over 500 ( FIVE HUNDRED ! ) UKIP videos bashing the EU on almost anything you can imagine….and 2 videos debunking such idiocies from any EU officials.
    The very thought that “simple minded buffoons can’t touch us” is WRONG, these people CAN influence slowly populations.
    How do you think the UK was brainwashed to hate everything related to the EU?
    Slow, patient propaganda from Daily Mail and the associated tabloids.
    Slowly pouring poison, one drop at a time until the fatal dose is reached.

    The EU needs a better PR campaign.
    The xenophobic racists in Europe know this.
    Putin knows this. America knows this.
    Somehow the EU DOES NOT know this or doesn’t care.

    • avatar
      Marcel

      The press in most of continental Europe, after receiving incentives, have been doing this on behalf of the EU for decades. And guess what? They abysmally failed! If the EU were to propose a ban on criticism of the Commission you might get one or two dissenting voices in the press but most would jump into line immediately.

      Most of continental Europe have been browbeaten into submission by this. And the press fear to lose ‘access’ or entry into all those ‘journalist prizes’ the EU likes to promote (which of course have no strings attached whatsoever /sarcasm).

      The simple question of explaining how the EU works, why don’t they do it? Because it would require them telling the populace at large that democracy is being slowly whittled away and decisions increasingly made behind closed doors by an unelected income-tax-exempt class of mutually appointed politicians.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Crayven
      Hmmm, a bit of a DISTORTED view old chap – Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

      You don’t seem to understand the function of the FOURTH ESTATE in a democratic society – it is to challenge, critique and raise awareness of the POLITICAL ELITE who often succumb to the allure of power and ‘screw’ the demos [if they think they can get away with it], particularly if members of said elite originate from countries that have a poor track record in the practice and continuity of democracy*.

      I would only be in favour of COMPULSORY VOTING if the EC powers that be when campaigning:

      bothered to visit the biggest city in the EU ie London,

      bothered to visit the 2nd biggest EU net contributor [when you include the anti-UK FISH TAX of c£3/pa] – ie the UK,

      had ALL MEP financial transactions made public,

      had a chartered MEP qualification that required post-graduate study and specialised real-world experience in a particular field such as finance, defence, health etc – thereby hampering the careerist power-mad flotsam and jetsam that permeate the UK, the EU etc

      * QUICK QUIZ QUESTION: Can you name any Latin country that has had a continuous [representative] democracy for the last 100 years?

  37. avatar
    Caleb Smith

    The vote is an inherent right for all citizens of a free nation. It is an individuals duty and privilege to do so. That being said, people should vote of their own free will and the act of doing so should not be incentivised. Besides, allowing the government the ability to play with laws surrounding the right to vote is just asking for trouble. The world is filled with corrupt politicians, and every single one of them will take advantage of that opportunity.

  38. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    @Marcel
    Well said.

    I’ve just watched the EU-financed, pro-EU so-called news channel EURONEWS.

    Quite bizarrely its failed to mention the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. It is the biggest sporting even this year after the World cup.

    A brilliant example of how the EU and its BIASED channel EURONEWS skews the news to promote its own agenda ie ANTI-ANGLO-SAXON.

    As regards the forum question, cash prizes of c£100,000 should be randomly awarded to c10k net EU contributor country citizens as an incentive/reward/apology for propping up some of the Club Med countries that they have been forced/coerced/deceived to ‘pool’ democracy with.

  39. avatar
    proactive

    Code of contact –toe the line- or…..

    “We reserve the right to remove any posting that is inappropriate or offensive that attacks another participant advertises or endorses a person, product, or service, or that promotes a campaign or includes electioneering.”

    ‘Citizen: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
    “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the EC.
    “I don’t much care where,” said the Citizen.
    “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the EC.’
    Familiar?

  40. avatar
    George Yiannitsiotis

    1. Compulsory voting exists in totalitarian regimes
    2. Democracy and compulsory voting do not fit!
    3. Citizens, eligible to voting, not exercising their right, are simply idiots (by the ancient greek meaning of the word ΙΔΙΩΤΗΣ – idiot)
    4. Democracy does not fit to the totalitarian, bureaucratic, corruption-spreading machinery called “European Union”. A “Union” that imposes rules that erode-degrade the Constitutional Order and Democratic processes in the peripheral member-states (nowadays, debt-enslaved colonies of the Troica) to the benefit of a bunch of international usurers, has no ethical ground regarding DEMOCRACY.

    As a Greek proverb says: No one talks about rope at a hanged-person’s home”.

    • avatar
      proactive

      I reminded commentators of the prevailing debating rules- because constant negative criticism is construed by the EU programmed moderators- as a “campaign” & will be removed!

      Aren’t people in dictatorships fighting for a democracy- once a democracy, people’s lethargy let a “dictatorial creep” get into its democratic system again?

      “The EU is a conundrum with its much criticized duplicated voting system!

      There are pro & cons to any compulsory vote. My preference would be ‘compulsory’, like practiced in 22 other countries for “local elections”- better explained here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_voting

      The EU has first to go through a total “re-call” process before such option can be considered for it!

      I hope, my post will not be classified a campaign once more & will see the daylight!

  41. avatar
    Lica

    In Romania the law of political parties is so repressive that normal citizens are virtually unable to setup a new party. So, NO, I don’t want to be forced to vote with the establishment just for the sake of voting. If we, the citizens, would have the freedom to participate in politics maybe I would consider such a prospective…

  42. avatar
    les. templar

    Why should anyone be forced to vote? What will people be forced to do next if they are forced to vote? I vote because I choose to but each person should have the freedom of choice.

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