11 June 2024, The Tablet

Low turnout in European elections concerns bishops

European bishops had made a series of statements encouraging voter engagement ahead of the elections, and circulated a guide for younger voters.

Low turnout in European elections concerns bishops

Election results displayed in the European Parliament on 9 June
CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2024 – Source : EP

The Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (Comece) warned of “a persistent indifference and lack of commitment among EU citizens” after last week’s European elections recorded a turnout of around 50 per cent.

A statement from the Comece secretariat on 10 June, as results were announced across the continent, praised the election as a “great exercise in democracy”. However, it warned that the relatively low number of votes cast demonstrated weaknesses in the system, particularly as populist and right-wing parties won support in several countries.

“A low turnout, combined with the strong increase in nationalistic and Eurosceptic parties, especially in the founding countries of the European Union, manifests a strong dissatisfaction with the performance of the EU,” it said.

Ahead of the election, Comece’s president Bishop Mariano Crociata of Latina-Terracina-Sezze-Priverno urged “all European citizens, especially Catholics, to vote in the upcoming EU elections and to do so reasonably”.

He promoted “a European Union of shared and genuine values, that promotes peace, both within our continent and beyond, justice, human rights, democracy, solidarity and care for our common home”. He acknowledged the EU’s flaws but said the bishops hoped “to improve it together using the democratic tools we have”.

European bishops had made a series of statements encouraging voter engagement ahead of the elections, and circulated a guide for younger voters.

In May, Bishop Crociata signed an open letter alongside Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the Archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, addressed to “dearest Europe” and encouraging EU citizens “to grow a common feeling, a shared appreciation of the values that underpin our coexistence”.

“What is needed is a new sense of citizenship, a civic sense with a European outlook, the greatness of the peoples of the European continent,” the letter said, warning of the dangers of a low turnout in the election.

“To refrain from voting is not the same as remaining neutral but it means giving others the power to act without, if not against, our freedom.”

In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing Brothers of Italy party won the most votes, but observers were most alarmed by a turnout of less that 50 per cent in a country with historically strong participation.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party won less than half of the far-right National Rally’s 32 per cent of the vote, while the Alternative für Deutschland and other populist parties made gains across the continent. Nevertheless, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted “the centre is holding” with pro-EU parties still set for a majority.

The Comece statement welcomed the “good news” of the “strong desire for more Europe” it said was evident in this result, and urged European politicians “to work to reduce the perceived gaping between the European Union and its citizens and to give adequate answers to their real concerns”.

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