Springtime in Strasbourg

The EU parliamentary elections are in May. In Austria, results may broadly reflect the current national parliament, but right wing nationalist parties across Europe could tip the balance in Strasbourg.

Voting for people most citizens hardly know, to send them to a far off parliament city that most people have never visited, to do work that most people don’t understand … small wonder that enthusiasm for the upcoming European elections is modest.

In the last EU election in 2014, about 40% of the 6.3 million Austrian voters cast a ballot, close to the European average of 43.5%.  Predictions of voter turnout this time are hazy, but the news analysis site foerderportal.at expects the heightened general interest in EU affairs to push participation to over 50%.  The weekly news magazine Profil reported that 55% of younger Austrian voters “definitely” intend to vote this time (source: Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Europapolitik). Perhaps this is about the only positive result of the omni-present Brexit chaos.

Austria fills 18 out of 751 parliamentary seats, rising to 19 in the next Parliament.  This represents less than 3% of the total so what happens here does not exactly steer the course of Europe.  Nonetheless, it could contribute to a significant shift in the rise of the right wing populist parties across the Continent.

This is the big picture, the growing strength of a political bloc in Strasbourg that is either highly critical of the EU or even opposed to its mere existence. A report in the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit cites a Europaparlament study predicting a net gain of 43 seats for the loose coalition of right wing parties, 27 of them from the two big beast populists Lega (Italy) and RN (France). This would give avowed opponents of the pan-European dream a voting block of 103 seats, nearly 14% of the Strasbourg lawmakers.

This at any rate is the theory: What is totally unclear is the extent to which the various EU saboteurs might actually work together. Their leaders are often mercurial – Italy’s Matteo Salvini, France’s Marine Le Pen and Britain’s Nigel Farage.  A dose of Brexit havoc is the last thing we need in the European Parliament.

Pre-election polls in Austria (Research-Affairs) suggest only slight shifts in voting patterns since 2014 –

unlikely to have more than a minimal effect on the distribution of seats. The three major parties ÖVP, SPÖ and FPÖ are fairly stable at around a quarter of the votes each, the urban liberal NEOs are now level with the left-ish Grünen at about 9% each. The voter profiles are interesting, but not surprising: the centrist conservatives have a somewhat older base, the social democrats and the populist FPÖ are spread equally across all age groups and the two smaller mavericks slightly younger.  The male/female split is generally even, except for the liberal NEOs who have strong support among (probably young) women. But as the wise man said, predictions are notoriously difficult, especially about the future.

What matters is to vote: If you are registered in Vienna and hold an EU national passport* you can vote on May 26.  So get out there, and let your continental-patriotic voice be heard.

* If in doubt contact https://www.wien.gv.at/amtshelfer/dokumente/verwaltung/waehlerevidenz/eintragung-eu-buerger.html

or Gerald Amon on gerald.amon@wien.gv.at, Tel.: +43 1 4000 89478, Magistratsabteilung 62, Wählerevidenz.

They will let you know in minutes whether you are legally registered.

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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