Elections in a democracy are supposed to perform the functions of holding governments accountable and representing voters' interests, thus legitimising the exercise of power. Elections to the European Parliament fail to perform these functions. Since the Treaty of Union came into force in November 1993, the European Parliament has had a role to play in selecting the President of the European Commission, nevertheless European elections do not set in motion a process of government formation in the same way as do national elections in the member states. Moreover, policies proposed by parties and candidates in European elections rarely have much European content, instead they relate to the national political arena and are generally specific to particular countries. Parties use these elections as opportunities to test their standing with the public in terms of their domestic political agendas. But national governments do not stand or fall by European election results either, so the choices of voters have no immediately obvious repercussions on policy at either level. In the circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that many citizens of the EU fail to take these elections seriously, and turnout is generally low-often even lower than at regional and local elections which everywhere are less important than national elections. The low levels of public participation in European elections in turn raises questions in some minds about the legitimacy of the EU.
But the fact that European elections have no consequences for government formation at the national or European levels, and no discernible effect on the conduct of European affairs, does not mean that they have no effects at all. Indeed the very failure of European elections to legitimatise the exercise of European power has consequences for the future of the EU, and European elections also have many consequences-most of them unanticipated and many of them unfortunate-for the politics of member states. They also determine the composition of the European Parliament (even if voters do not focus on this aspect of their votes) which in turn can have implications for policy-making, especially with the new co-decision-making powers of the European Parliament following the Treaty of Union.
In this chapter we will not concern ourselves with the consequences of European elections for policy since this would require a focus on EU policy-making rather than on EU elections. Instead we will describe some of the effects that European elections have had on the politics of member states, and evaluate their role in creating a 'crisis of legitimacy' for the European union. But first we need to describe the nature of these elections.