The Other Elections

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Who will fill the seats? The empty EU Parliament in Brussels / photo: Xavier Larrosa, flickr
Who will fill the seats? The empty EU Parliament in Brussels / photo: Xavier Larrosa, flickr

After India’s elections, they are the second-largest in the world. And when it comes to the complexity degree I am not sure who would be top of the list. A case in point: Candidates being elected in 27 different voting procedures and 27 election campaigns, each taking place according to its own rules.

What is it about the elections to the European Parliament that makes them so special and yet so debatable? It’s a question I asked myself when skimming through a Spiegel photo stream on the most bizarre candidates to the EU Parliament. Models and showgirls, the owner of a football club and a former cosmonaut – why do they all want to make it to Strasbourg and Brussels?

Of course, it is not the majority of candidates that reaches such a high degree of scurrility. I can see that there is also the more “qualified” type of candidate, such as French Justice Minister Rashida Dati or former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt, who have enjoyed political responsibility in the past.

And yet, like the Spiegel article, I ended up asking: What is it about the European Parliament that it attracts such comical figures?

On the one hand one could argue that some of the national parties are in need of image refreshment. By sending out beautiful TV-star Barbara Matera (27) Berlisconi’s intention might be, for example, to allow a breath of fresh air into his Popolo della Libertà.

On the other hand, motivation seems to lie with the candidates themselves. Take Elena Basescu (28), for instance. Fashion model and daughter of the Romanian President Traian Basescu – a candidate for a seat in the European Parliament. I already imagine her father’s warm advice: “For something you should not try and play at home, I am suggesting a different playground.”

Indeed. The European elections seem to offer a more experimental stage. It is as if political games were played on two different stages: a “real,” i.e. national, and an “unreal,” i.e. European. The proof of that is that candidates that are not being taken seriously in their home countries are trying to distinguish themselves through a role played further away, in the remote spheres of European-ness.

The irony in all this lies in the fact that the European Parliament is not as powerless anymore, as it used to be 30 years ago. Decisions on issues such as climate change to online privacy are actually being taken by this legislative body.

But the EU citizens still see these elections as unimportant and this perceived irrelevance allows for an exceptional state to emerge, in which, as we are witnessing right now, the weirdest of candidates are in the run. A parallel “political” game is thus evolving here. However, it is not even being entirely led by politicians, the subject in matter surely not being politics.

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