"I AM extremely worried that the Slovak voter is weary from the different campaigns and I am concerned about low turnout," said Azelio Fulmini, head of the European Parliament Office in Slovakia, who is leading a campaign to prove predictions of weak voter participation wrong; The Slovak Spectator found out how.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Political parties have not yet started any campaigns for elections to the European Parliament, though these are scheduled for June 13. Analysts assume that the campaigns will be minimal. Do you feel that the parties are underestimating the importance of these elections?
Azelio Fulmini (AF):Given my position, I would not want to say that the parties are underestimating the elections. However, I can tell you for sure that I am the only one who is presently campaigning on the topic of EP [European Parliament] elections.
But I also assume that after the 15th of May you will see the EP-related activities of political parties intensifying. I have no doubt that they will join the campaigning; they might just have a different sense of timing. However, I feel that the EU debate in the media is quite open. I hear the expressions "EU affairs" and "EU problems" almost everywhere. Certainly, the media sometimes exaggerates the problems or focuses on the issues that sell papers, but you see that everywhere, not only in Slovakia.
As for official contacts, I have been cooperating with the deputy prime minister for EU integration [Pál Csáky], and the cooperation of the ambassadors of the EU countries has been excellent.
TSS: The campaign for EP elections started on April 18. What are the main objectives of the campaign? Is it an information campaign or a get-out-the-vote campaign?
AF: For me it is definitely a get-out-the-vote campaign. The message is clear: "Slovaks, cast your vote." We have multiple initiatives, and some of them have already started. We will have a billboard campaign, and railway tickets and some benches will carry the message too. The campaign will culminate between April 30 and May 9 when we have the Common Faces event all around Slovakia.
I have been organising seminars countrywide since the first week of April to inform NGOs, business people, and professionals about EU decision-making procedures. We have received very good feedback from observers.
TSS: What are the main target groups of the campaign?
AF: We will approach each target group with a different method. Railway tickets with EP campaign logos will target those who normally do not seek information or have a very low interest in the elections. The planned television spots are to activate the same group. The approximately 30 to 40 seminars over 4 to 5 weeks are for those who are interested in more detailed information. I am basically sending documents to everybody who requests them - NGOs and mayors. We are trying to reach all those who are interested.
The only target group we have not addressed yet is the Roma. But in the end we will have all the groups covered. I have materials in Hungarian and we will be visiting even small villages, though meetings there are more difficult to organise. We will certainly not leave out eastern Slovakia. I have been in all these places.
We also plan a quiz in cooperation with Slovak Television and we will distribute prizes, including a trip to Brussels. To give a more approachable form to the campaign, Slovaks will be invited to join the internet game EuropaQuiz, which is being played from Sunday April 18 to Sunday June 13. This game, which celebrates European diversity, can be accessed through the EP website www.europarl.eu.int and its own site: www.europaquiz.org.
TSS: Over recent months the Slovak voter has been exposed to far too many campaigns and votes. Do you assume a certain weariness and apathy on the part of the Slovak voter?
AF: I am extremely worried that the Slovak voter is weary from the different campaigns and I am concerned about the possible low turnout. I have been repeating the message at all my meetings since the beginning of April and I tell the people that they should cast their vote even if they are tired, even if they think it is not useful to them.
TSS: In the Slovak media the most featured topic concerning the elections to the EP was the salary of the EP deputies. Do you think that this one-sided coverage of the EP topic might have any impact on the turnout?
AF: Yes, you are right, but what can we do? The media are free and I can only respect the decision of the editors to select the catchy news that sells the paper. The only thing I can do is to remind them to be careful because the media have a crucial role. However, I think the Slovak media does understand the importance of the elections and I can see that they all agree on that.
I only tell the voters to be critical. I tell them they can choose whatever party they find appealing; centre, left, or right, but to cast their vote - this is what we care about. In the EP we have different factions. That is the rule of democracy. Right or left, it does not matter to me; the important thing is that they are good representatives of the European Parliament.
When I organised a seminar in Bratislava last December, I received compliments from members of the opposition parties who said they appreciated that the opposition and coalition were talking about the same topic and seeking joint solutions. It surprised me that they thanked me for something that appears quite natural to me. Later I understood that this is not that natural here. I know that citizens might be tired [of it].
TSS: What would be an ideal turnout?
AF: Turnout under 50 percent would not be enough. However, the turnout differs in each country. In Belgium or Italy it could reach 70 percent; the lowest is often in the UK.
TSS: In early April you suggested that there were some legislative shortcomings concerning the elections to the European Parliament in Slovakia. You pointed to the problem of permanent residence, which is no longer a requirement for Slovaks in order to be eligible to vote in the elections to the EP.
AF: I do not believe that the current state of the legislation will cause any serious problems. The Slovak legislators have been very cooperative in seeking solutions to the problem. However, the legal problems still exist. When the Slovak legislators changed the law on national elections, they gave Slovak citizens who live abroad and [those who] do not have a permanent residence in Slovakia a right to vote, which is quite all right.
But then they translated this provision to the law on elections to the European Parliament, which creates a problem. They did it without intending to discriminate against other EU citizens, but in fact the provision is discriminatory towards those EU citizens who still need to have a permanent residence to be able to vote, while Slovaks do not need one. It is a delicate situation. For the moment I have not made any official note about that because at this point it is clear that it was not intentional and I have been given the promise that the problem will be solved.
3. May 2004 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová