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.