2,000 candidates seek election to European Parliament

Voting to begin today for 626-member body

June 10, 1999|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LONDON -- The 71-year-old former diva of Italian films, Gina Lollobrigida, is a candidate but seems unsure why.

So is the Irish winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, who goes only by the name Dana.

They are among 2,000 of both new and known politicians seeking election this week to the 626-member European Parliament, the world's first and only experiment in transnational democracy.

Voters will go to the polls today in Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, tomorrow in Ireland and Sunday in the 11 other European Union nations.

Lollobrigida, a candidate for the Democrats Party of former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, said: "I've never been involved in politics, but when I got the offer I said yes immediately. It's only afterward that I thought about why this was a good thing. I don't know how many votes I need. I don't know anything."

While there is no shortage of candidates, there is a distinct lack of interest among the 298 million eligible voters. The 20-year-old Parliament has long been seen by many Europeans as an expensive talking shop and a haven for washed-up politicians, so turnout might be below the 57 percent of the last elections in 1994.

In Britain, the most skeptical member state of the EU, projections suggest that fewer than 1 in 3 voters might go to the polls.

The Parliament flexed its muscle in March by forcing the resignation of the 20-member European Commission over allegations of corruption and cronyism. That was the most convincing display of the Parliament's power in its history.

Members' salaries vary, depending on what members of their national parliaments earn. Italians do the best at $130,000, Greeks the worst at just $24,000.

A key question is whether the Socialist bloc, which dominates European governments, will continue to be the main group in Parliament or will be supplanted by the center-right bloc.

A swing of 15 seats would give control to the center-right.

But some experts predict that the Socialists, despite expected losses in Britain, will pick up seats in France and elsewhere and probably will retain the dominant position. They hold 213 seats.

The big winners might be the Liberal Democrats, who present themselves as an alternative to socialism and conservatism. They expect gains especially in Britain and Germany and could end up with 70 seats, 29 more than they currently hold.

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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