Early last summer, I wrote about a new resource for country-by-country election reports on the European Union parliamentary elections. At the time, the analysis was only available for most countries in Italian, but now English language versions of all of the articles have been gathered together and published as a single free e-book available here. I recently spoke to the editor of the volume, political scientist Lorenzo De Sio of the LUISS Guido Carli University, Rome, about the lessons learned from the election, as well as the process of making academic research freely available:

JT: What was the most important trend in the European Parliamentary (EP) elections that you saw across all 28 elections?

Definitely the rise of Eurosceptic parties, who ranked first in several countries. Typical examples are the UKIP in the UK (26.6 percent), the Front National in France (24.9 percent) and the Danish People’s Party (26.6 percent). This is a bit ironic: Many commentators had long called for the Europeanization of the campaigns for European elections (given that in past years such elections were mostly disputed on national issues in each country). Well, it looks like such Europeanization has in part happened, but unfortunately against a further European integration, rather than for it.

JT: Would you say that EP elections are become more or less important for European politics from the point of view of policy formation?

They might have become more important. First, it is true that – under the new provisions of the Lisbon treaty – the new president of the European Commission (Jean-Claude Juncker) has been nominated (and then elected by the European Parliament) by taking into account the electoral result. Secondly, Juncker’s first statements have been in the direction of more attention to economic growth (rather than an exclusive focus on economic austerity); this might originate from some interpretation of the electoral result, especially the rise of Euroscepticism.

JT: Are the EP elections becoming more or less important for voters?  Was turnout generally up or down?

After a constant decrease in the last decades (although mostly resulting from the systematic enlargement of the EU to countries with lower turnout figures), turnout has stabilized: It was 43.1 percent in 2014, compared to 43 percent in 2009. However, there are regional differences: Central Eastern Europe still sees a decrease (overall, from 38.4 to 32.9 percent), while most Western European countries are stable, if not slightly increasing. Also, we need to note that, due to generational replacement, turnout is generally decreasing also in general elections, especially in Western Europe. If we discount this trend (as done by another study), we even see an increase in 2014, except for Central Eastern Europe.

JT: What was the single most surprising result of the EP elections?

This might be a little biased by my nationality, but definitely the landslide victory of Matteo Renzi’s PD in Italy. To a large extent, the success of Eurosceptic parties was largely anticipated; not so for Renzi’s result, who made his party Europe’s largest in terms of absolute votes (despite Italy not being the largest country). This is especially surprising, as governing parties are usually heavily punished in EP elections (as voters often interpret them as second-order elections, similar to midterm elections in the U.S.). Our analyses show that Renzi’s success was mostly due to a widespread perception of him being more credible to tackle the country’s most pressing problems. This is clearly understandable, as Berlusconi’s leadership has almost completely vanished, and no credible alternatives have appeared yet. Also, Renzi insisted on the need for Italy to not simply comply with E.U. economic policy, but to contribute to steer its direction towards more growth, by resorting to tougher negotiation stances. Whether he will succeed is yet to be seen, but this position appears to have attracted new voters.

JT: In this day and age of increasing financial pressure on publishers, how are you able to put out this book for free?

First of all, the book has a very peculiar nature: It is meant as a quick reference, instant-book with fresh data and quick, simple analyses. It’s essentially a collection of short reports and analyses that appeared on the CISE Web site a few days after the election. As such, it does not aim to compete with the scientific publishing industry. The idea is to provide quick facts and data in a very short time, and in the convenient form of a nicely typeset e-book (which can be also ordered in print form). We were able to publish it a few weeks after the elections, due to a very quick editing and translation process. The voluntary work of our 40 colleagues across Europe, along with our voluntary editing work, allowed to keep costs low (essentially some translations and professional typesetting). And such costs have been covered with the support of the CISE donors.