The EU's democratic deficit

22 Apr 13
Anna Sonny

Low voter turnouts, such as in Croatia this month, are a thorn in the European Union's side. It appears that that the lack of democracy in the EU’s structures has sown seeds of apathy among its own citizens

The first ever European elections in Croatia, held on 14 April, saw the main opposition party, the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, winning six of the 12 available seats. Croatia will officially join the EU on 1st July 2013, 40 years after the first ever EU enlargement, which welcomed Britain, Ireland and Denmark into the supranational body.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic highlighted the historic importance of the elections; but the occasion also made history for attracting the lowest voter turnout ever in a Croatian election – 20.75%.

Croatian ministers blamed economic troubles, both domestically and within the eurozone, a failure of the candidates to campaign on EU issues and a lack of public information on the elections, which were split from local elections, now scheduled for May.

But these figures are part of an on-going downward trend across Europe; in the last 2009 elections, voter turnout was particularly low amongst newer member states, with Poland at 25%, Lithuania at 21% and the lowest being Slovakia, at 20%.

Low-voter turnouts are a thorn in the EU’s side; the European Parliament stands as the EU’s strongest claim to democracy, being the only directed elected institution within the body. But if only a small portion of voters are actually participating in elections, then the majority of EU citizens don’t actually have a say in what goes on. Although this is by choice, it demonstrates an overwhelming lack of interest in the EU amongst member states.

The path towards EU accession is an obstacle course of conditions and requirements; Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003, and is joining 10 years later.  If only a small portion of the population think there is any point in voting after the rigmarole of accession, it is clear that the lack of democracy in the EU’s structures is more than just an uncomfortable paradox – it has also sown seeds of apathy amongst its own citizens.

It seems that the on-going saga of the eurozone crisis and its negative repercussions for the global economy have also eclipsed the EU’s reputation, both internationally and within its own borders.

Anna Sonny is Europe project manager at thinktank Civitas. This post first appeared on the

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