Electing Europe's Parliament

May 11, 1979

Report Outline
Outlook for the New Parliament
Elusive Goal of a United Europe
Future Prospects for Cooperation
Special Focus

Outlook for the New Parliament

Debate Over Significance of Elections

In the world's first international general election, the people of the nine-nation European Community will go to the polls early in June to elect a European Parliament. Aside from the uniqueness of the event, analysts on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to decide just what it means, both now and for the future. When the nine governments finally agreed in the summer of 1976 to proceed with direct elections, the speaker of the then-appointed Parliament exuberantly told his listeners: “This date marks the birth of the European citizen.”

That idealistic notion, a united Europe virtually without national boundaries, has been embedded in European thought at least since the 19th century. Until after World War II, it remained the idle musing of a few dreamers. But as intense nationalism faded in the post-war years, permitting the transnational European Economic Community (EEC or “Common Market”) to flourish, the idea of a politically united Europe seemed not so far-fetched. Has that golden day finally arrived with the popular election of a central legislative body? The preponderance of opinion seems to be no, not yet. No really important national powers are being handed over to this newly elected body. But what its very existence portends for the distant future may be something else. No European can be sure whether gradually the Parliament will assume great power, or whether ultimately it will come to nothing.

Voting will be conducted on two separate days, on June 7 in Britain, Denmark (including Greenland), Ireland and the Netherlands, and on June 10 in Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy and Luxembourg. All 180 million citizens of these countries who are 18 or older are eligible to vote to fill a total of 410 seats in the European Parliament. The actual vote is expected to fall far short of the potential. Despite extensive media coverage of the coming election, news reports indicate voter apathy in most of the nine countries. The British and Italians have been preoccupied with their own national elections.

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Regional Political Affairs: Europe