May 17, 2019 / 11:39 AM / 2 months ago

Confused by EU elections? Brexit makes it worse, candidate says

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The delay to Britain’s departure from the European Union has only confused voters who already have little enthusiasm for European Parliament elections, according to Socialist lead candidate Frans Timmermans.

FILE PHOTO: Frans Timmermans of the Party of European Socialists (PES) speaks before a debate to be broadcast live across Europe from the European Parliament in Brussels, ahead of the May 23-26 elections for EU lawmakers, in Brussels, Belgium May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts/File Photo

Almost three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, the Brexit process is so bogged down that its scheduled departure date has been put back seven months to Oct. 31, meaning it is obliged to take part in the election on Thursday.

“The British people are asked to go and vote, but for what?” said the 58-year-old former Dutch foreign minister and current vice president of the executive Commission, now vying to become president.

“Are these (British) EU lawmakers going to stay long?” he mused in an interview with Reuters in the back of his black Mercedes on the campaign trail in Dublin on May 10. “It is discomfort and confusion rather than anything else.”

The Netherlands is one of Britain’s closest allies in Europe and Timmermans’ frustration with London reflects broader anger across the bloc at both the 2016 Brexit referendum and the chaotic and so far unsuccessful efforts to leave.

Turnout for European Parliament elections is traditionally low. The 751 seats will be filled through national votes in 28 member states, where individual parties campaign largely on local issues.

Britons will be voting for 73 lawmakers who may have to quit within weeks if the British parliament finally passes a withdrawal agreement after repeated failures - a scenario that David Cameron, the pro-EU prime minister who called the Brexit referendum, never expected.

Timmermans, 58, who attended a British international school in Rome as a child, said the lesson of Brexit was how dangerous it was to oversimplify issues that can polarise society.

“Membership of the European Union was an annoyance (in Britain) but never a huge issue - so this is a crisis created by politicians that has completely paralysed society,” he said.

“I don’t understand how Cameron can even sleep at night.”

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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