British lead apathy stakes as election looms

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 June, 1999, 12:00am

Those looking for some peace and quiet this weekend might be advised to visit a polling station, as apathy looks like being the only certain winner in the European parliamentary elections.

British voters look like being the most unenthusiastic, with some pollsters predicting that only 20 per cent will bother to cast their ballot.

Campaigning has been so low key that parties have cancelled their usual door-to-door canvassing and even the media's political pundits have been unable to work up much excitement.

The opposition Conservative Party has tried to provoke interest in the election with a platform based on keeping Britain from entering the single European currency, even though the decision will not rest with the European Parliament.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a bid to get voters to turn out to the polls by launching a joint manifesto with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder.

The centre-left coalition of the Party of European Socialists looks set to lose its majority in the 626-member assembly, but the two leaders tried to whip up support with a pledge to modernise Europe.

'We must combine the economic dynamism that Europe desperately needs with the commitment to social justice that remains the core of our beliefs,' Mr Blair told a rally in London.

The Prime Minister took the opportunity to contrast the Labour Party's approach with that of the Conservative leader, William Hague, saying the choice was between 'leading Europe or leaving Europe'.

Yet most British voters appear to have remained cynical about the value of the European Parliament, where members have established a reputation for racking up large expense accounts while exerting little influence.

The European Parliament is the only directly elected international assembly in the world, representing 370 million people in the 15 member nations.

But the turnout across the continent has dwindled from 62 per cent when it was first established in 1970 to 56 per cent in the last poll in 1994.

Pessimists predict only 50 per cent of voters across the Union will bother to vote, even though voting is compulsory in some countries such as Belgium and Greece.

British MEP Pauline Green is optimistic, saying: 'There are a lot of people who known about the elections and who say the Parliament is doing a good job.'