The European Green Party - Online Primary to Increase Participation, Fails to Connect

shutterstock_196596260Elections for the European Parliament generally suffer from lackluster citizen interest and subdued voter turnout. Heading into the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, the European Green Party (EGP) attempted to address this by organizing an online primary to select two candidates who would represent the EGP’s policy platform across Europe. The EGP hoped the primary would generate enthusiasm among traditional supporters, encourage new supporters and empower young voters. The goal was to mobilize at least 100,000 supporters to log online and vote.[1] The online primary was a historic attempt at engaging European voters to support the party’s candidates; the EGP was the only European party to hold an open, online primary.[2] With EU-wide party membership totalling around 150,000 voters, the EGP’s goal for participation was ambitious.[3]

EGP national member parties nominated four candidates to stand for the EU-wide primary; they were announced at the Autumn Party Conference in November 2013 in Brussels, Belgium. Participation in the online primary was simple: European voters 16 years and older could reach the online voting website, register an account, acknowledge that they supported the EGP policy agenda and then cast their ballot. In addition to the ease of registration and voting, the EGP gave voters ample time to vote for their candidate of choice; the voting phase began on November 10, 2013 and lasted until January 28, 2014.[4]

The Green Primary was as open as it could be; however, as primary voting came and went, the EGP realized that accessibility was not the only variable to consider. The results were announced in early February 2014: Ska Keller of Germany and José Bové of France were the victors, with a total of nearly 22,000 votes cast.[5]

It appeared that democratic fervor was not as reliable a force as expected: turnout was around 22 percent and the EGP fell far short of its goal of mobilizing 100,000 voters.[6] However, while participation was lower than hoped, the party’s strategic approach to the Green Primary increased intra-party democratic structures and limited technical glitches, but it misunderstood pan-EU cohesion.[7]

Functionally, the Green Primary was successful. The EGP empowered national parties to nominate candidates, constructive debates were held across Europe, citizens could engage the candidates and the online voting period lasted nearly 80 days.  But the Green Primary demonstrated that open and accessible party nomination processes or e-voting cannot be the only factors when considering an election’s success. Instead, to engage voters and encourage them to participate, the stakes need to be higher.

This was the first election where parties could nominate a candidate for the European Commission, due to new mandates under the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. Judging by the results of the 2014 EU election overall, none of the parties mobilized enough support for this new electoral process.[8] Although the EGP’s rollout of the technology for the online primary was smooth and well-planned, party leaders did not drum up enough support from their members to maximize the technology’s full potential.

Key Takeaway

  • Many parties and campaigns see e-voting as a platform for more accessible decision making and higher citizen participation, but contextual analyses and strategic planning should be used to assess interest and clarify the level of marketing needed to encourage participation.

[1] Sabrina Pabst, “Online Voting Flops for European Green Party,” Deutsche Welle, 2014, http://www.dw.de/online-voting-flops-for-european-green-party/a-17395839.

[2] “Press Release: Ska Keller and José Bové Will Lead the Greens in Their European Campaign,” European Green Party, 2014, http://europeangreens.eu/news/press-release-greens-select-leading-candidates.

[3] Johannes Hillje, “Green Primary – Pioneering Work is Hard, but Worth it!” Europe Decides, 2014, http://europedecides.eu/2014/02/green-primary-pioneering-work-is-hard-but-worth-it/.

[4] “The Green Primary is Easy!” European Green Party, 2013, http://europeangreens.eu/news/green-primary-easy.

[5] “Press Release: Ska Keller and José Bové Will Lead the Greens in Their European Campaign.”

[6] Sabrina Pabst.

[7] The data derived for this analysis came from: International IDEA’s “Voter Turnout Database,” and from the European Parliament’s 2014 Election Results.

[8] “2014 Election Results,” European Parliament, 2014, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/elections2014-results/en/election-results-2014.html.