Here’s an easy therapy platitude you probably love to hear: How can anyone else respect you if you don’t respect yourself? It’s also how I feel whenever German politicians come on TV and tell me to vote in the European Union election. Ha! If you really want me to care about engaging in European politics, how about giving the European Parliament real legislative powers, relinquishing the power you invest in the imperialist myths of the hoary nation-state, and fielding candidates people have heard of?
Still, caveats out of the way, I do believe in the game. I do think there is an urgent need for people to vote in this European election, if for only one reason: because of proportional representation, every sensible vote cast will dilute the power of right-wing racists whose only aim is destruction.
The European Union election in Germany is a democratic free-for-all. You have 41 parties (if you count the Bayernpartei – which you can only vote for in Bavaria) to choose from, which means that when you enter the booth on Sunday, May 26, you will be handed a 94-centimetre sheet of paper (someone measured it), upon which you may place one (1) cross next to the party you would like to represent you in Brussels and Strasbourg.
There are so many parties because, unlike with the Bundestag election, or the German general election, there is no “hurdle” that a party must clear to get into the parliament. Anyone with a cause feels like they’re in with a chance. You could pick any of three outright communist parties (the kind who think Die Linke are bourgeois stooges), four animal rights parties, and four outright neo-Nazi parties. Even the “Grey” movement is not immune to political splits, with two separate “multi-generational” parties (The Greys and the Grey Panthers).
Here are the rules: If you are over 18 and an EU national, you can vote, regardless of whether you live in your home country. BUT: if you don’t live in your home country, you can EITHER vote for candidates where you live, or for those where you’re from. But if you want to do that, you have to check you’re still registered to vote back home. If you’re a British Berliner, this might have proved awkward, since the UK only confirmed on May 7 that it was indeed going to take part in the European election, two days after the deadline to register to vote for non-German nationals living in Berlin.
The weird thing about European elections is that, even with the contempt in which national party structures hold European politics, the European Parliament does actually have some power, despite what I said earlier. It does matter. It’s true that the national governments and parties (for all their endless evasive talk of finding “European solutions” to problems like the debt crisis, or migrants dying in the sea) haven’t quite brought themselves to giving up power. The European Parliament can’t actually initiate legislation. BUT it does control legislation, AND there is no whip system forcing MEPs to vote with their parties, so alliances shift on each question, which makes individual MEPs and parliamentary debates a lot more important.
And you’re special if you vote in the European election because you’ll be taking part in the only international democratic process in the world. Apart from the Eurovision Song Contest, obvs.