British, Dutch turn out for European assembly vote

375 million people are eligible to take part in four days of voting ending, but opinion polls suggest fewer than half the electorate will vote.

British, Dutch turn out for European assembly vote

The European Parliament election began on Thursday as British and Dutch voters kicked off a poll expected to register broad public concern over governments' handling of the global economic slowdown.

More than 375 million people are eligible to take part in four days of voting ending on Sunday, but opinion polls suggest fewer than half the electorate will vote.

Few of the EU's 495 million citizens have much interest in the assembly, even though it shapes many pan-European laws, endorses the EU executive and budget, and will gain power under the EU's Lisbon reform treaty.

"I understand that people can feel tired of politics," Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU said on Wednesday.

"We often hear about a democratic deficit in the EU ... One cannot complain of the EU being undemocratic and at the same time refuse to go to the polls," he said.

For British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the election will be a test of his leadership and a bad performance by his ruling Labour Party will increase pressure on him to quit.

The vote will be keenly watched in Germany for the mood ahead of a national election in September, while analysts say French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservatives could lose votes to the far-right.

In Ireland, the governing Fianna Fail party is expected to suffer a setback but it is not clear how well the Libertas party which opposes the Lisbon reform treaty will fare.

The treaty, on which Ireland holds a referendum in the autumn, is intended to streamline decision-making in the EU and would give the parliament more powers in setting legislation.

Unemployment in the 16 countries sharing the euro currency rose to 9.2 percent -- a 10-year high -- in April and joint European efforts to tackle joblessness have had limited success. Some EU leaders fear rising poverty could trigger social crisis.

The new parliament's tasks will include helping shape -- and pass -- laws on anything from the environment to supervision of Europe's financial system to try to avert another credit crunch.

It will also have the final say in appointing the next president of the European Commission, the EU's executive and a powerful regulatory body, and its endorsement is also required for the entire Commission to take office.

First results are expected after 2000 GMT on Sunday.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Haziran 2009, 10:07
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