SUBSTANCE OR SPIN IN EP ELECTIONS?

With just 58 days to go before the European Parliament elections, outgoing President Pat Cox has delivered an appeal for public attention to what he says "could be the first truly European election".

He says approaches based on public relations or personality battles should be rejected, and he is urging a focus on genuinely European issues. He is drawing inspiration from this first-ever opportunity for nearly 390 million voters across 25 countries to express their will in voting their representatives directly into Europe.

But if the enlargement of the European Union is lending a new dimension to this election, it is also exposing clearly how remote the EU still is from its citizens. The theoretical link the EP elections provide between Brussels and the broad constituency of EU citizens is not much reflected in the reality.

Citizens' votes in EP elections have little to do with the issues confronting the EU. National issues predominate. And the more nations there are in the EU, the more diverse the basis on which the EP elections are fought and decided.

So while Brussels debates a new EU Constitution or links with Turkey, common foreign and security policy or climate change, these issues hardly get an airing in European Parliament elections.

Instead, the outcome in each Member State is influenced by essentially local questions, and by the...

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