DEEPENING DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT.

PositionEuropean Parliament Elections

On Thursday the European Parliament elections start - and they threaten to shake up several of the comfortable assumptions that underpin the European Union.

The likely low turn-out is no novelty - voter interest has fallen steadily since the first elections, in 1979. But until now the assumption has been that enough people vote to assure the credibility of the process. This election, although the biggest ever, covering 25 countries, could produce the lowest turn-out yet - giving unprecedented acuteness to questions over the EP's relevance.

Another assumption under more direct challenge than ever before is how far the EP elections are in any way European. This time round, the customary disconnection between European issues and European voters is flagrant. The campaign trail is littered with questions and answers about local issues, while the European dimension is virtually incidental. And many candidates - particularly in the new Member States - appear to be poorly informed about EU issues in general, and the role of the Parliament in particular.

The other major assumption that could be up for review is that the EU will always get bigger - or at least remain the same size. In one of the first countries to go to the polls - the UK, on Thursday - the question of...

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