By the end of this weekend, about 380 million Europeans will have the opportunity to elect some 751 representatives to the European Parliament—the largest unicameral legislature by size of electorate. There, delegates from 28 European Union member states will play a substantial role in shaping continental policy on issues ranging from trade agreements with the United States to immigration and human trafficking.
But the massive election comes at a time when the disconnect between the EU and the people it governs has arguably never been greater. A Pew Research poll this month found that majorities in seven major European countries think their voice doesn't count in the EU, including 81 percent of Italians and 80 percent of Greeks. The European Union itself acknowledges the popular perception that EU bodies "suffer from a lack of democracy and seem inaccessible to the ordinary citizen because their method of operating is so complex." It's what the institution and many others call a "democratic deficit."
Here's the paradox, though: When given the chance to elect members of the European Parliament, fewer Europeans are taking the opportunity to make their voices heard than ever before.
Below are voter-turnout numbers for the last European Parliament elections, which were held in 2009. (Keep in mind that some European countries, including Belgium and Luxembourg, have compulsory voting, which accounts for their astronomically high turnout numbers.)
2009 wasn't just an off year for voters, either. In the first European Parliament election in 1979, voter turnout was 62 percent. Since then, as the EU has expanded its membership, turnout has dropped in every subsequent election, falling to only 43 percent in 2009. During the U.S. general election in 2012, by comparison, voter turnout dipped by about five percentage points from 2008 to 57.5 percent. (U.S. midterm elections average roughly 40-percent turnout.)