Power in European Parliament shifts to the right

15-06-2004

The governing coalition led by Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla was soundly defeated at the weekend in this country's first-ever European parliamentary elections. But anger against incumbent governments and a shift to the right were not unique to the Czech Republic.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTKPrime Minister Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK The Czech prime minister's own centre-left Social Democrats placed fifth in the elections to the European Parliament. His governing coalition as a whole garnered only 20 percent of the vote while the main opposition party, the centre-right Civic Democrats, took 30 percent.

Hardly a strong showing for Mr Spidla, who faces a vote of confidence next month. However, he can perhaps take some comfort in knowing that incumbent governments throughout the newly expanded EU took a pounding in the elections.

John Palmer, the director of the European Policy Centre, a leading Brussels-based think tank, told Czech Radio's EU correspondent that sluggish growth generated discontent throughout Europe.

"Everywhere there is a revolt against governments. The only exceptions are Spain, where we have a new government, and Sweden, where the Social Democrats remain popular. Elsewhere, governments have lost and that is because the economy is difficult, economic growth is slow, and people feel frustrated about the performance of their economies and their societies generally."

Less than one out of three potential Czech voters bothered to cast a ballot at the weekend; turnout was 28.3 percent. In neighbouring Slovakia only about 20 percent voted. Mr Palmer says widespread voter apathy is due to the fact that voters in effect see no reason to "vote twice".

"I am not surprised at the low turnout because frankly voters are not being asked to choose between different European futures, they are being asked to make a judgement on domestic politics. And many of them say, 'Well, I have voted in a general election. Why should I vote on the same question again in the European election? I'll wait until the next national election'. Until European elections mainly become concerned with European alternatives, then I think the voters will not engage in larger numbers".

The centre-right emerged victorious not only in the Czech Republic but in the European Parliament as a whole. The main grouping- the conservative European People's Party - now has over 270 seats, the socialists not quite 200 and the liberals just shy of 65. Mr Palmer says the overall shift to the right is clear, but the final number will likely change.

"I think it's too soon to know what the balance of power will be because although the Christian Democrats - the European People's Party - will be the largest party, some of their members may break away and join the liberals. So we could find the balance changes over the next few weeks."

The euro-sceptic Civic Democrats will have 9 seats in the new European Parliament, the Communists six and the governing coalition only four seats. Whatever the weight of the final groupings, as the Czechs will have 24 Euro-MPs in total, the newly minted Czech representatives will need to join forces with existing groupings in order to be heard.

15-06-2004