Since 1981 when Greece became an official member of the EEC (what would later become the European Union), the country has been represented in the European Parliament by many remarkable personalities deriving from the fields of politics, literature, science; in other words a group of people that is commonly referred to as the Greek intelligentsia. However, the implementation – for the first time, since Greece has been taking part in the European elections – of a new voting system based on the selection of individual candidates rather than on a concrete list set up by the respective political parties, has led to surprising results. The majority of the newly-elected Greek members of the European Parliament, apart from some particular notable exceptions, come from a group of public figures who became well-known to the Greek electorate either as a result of their frequent appearance in popular Greek TV shows and prime-time television news bulletins or due to the fact that they are famous journalists, actors, athletes etc. In Greece we often complain about the level and quality of our political staff. However, it is us, the Greek citizens, who choose the “products” of a low-level media environment to represent us in the European Parliament. And the responsibility of this significant choice lies not only with the Greek political parties who nominate them, but with us as well.
This is the crucial point where all Greek citizens have to think as responsible European citizens and consider the impact of their choice. At this point, we have to tone down our astonishment towards facts and choices that can be explained and interpreted under a specific rationale. After the recent European elections, for the umpteenth time, some people “fall from the clouds” thinking about the potential appeal of TV personalities, or those identifiable from TV, to voters. It is almost absurd to pretend to be surprised by the power of television. Or, to be precise, it is almost absurd to be surprised by the key lever that has, for almost a decade now, brought people and habits in Greece to the forefront of publicity. It takes only one single prime-time TV advertisement on Greek television for somebody to become the most talked-about person in town, and to become popular and recognizable more widely.
Considering all of this, what precisely has been the outcome of the new voting system? First of all, the new system itself should be considered a victory for democracy in the land that gave birth to Democracy, even if only a minority actually voted. Second, taking a closer look at the results of the European elections, we notice that the Greek electorate has voted in line with the publicity a personality gained on television. This signifies that the Greek people devoted to the election of their representatives in the European Parliament less time than they would need to conduct a Google search and that in the age of new information technologies, television remains the main informant.
The main conclusion that came out of the European Parliamentary elections is that the Greek electorate gave their support to well-known, easily recognizable personalities frequently appearing on TV and other mass and social media. In other words, the core issue that emerges in the aftermath of the elections in Greece is strongly connected to the background and the qualifications of candidates that were “distinguished” in the political parties’ lists. The sovereign Greek people decided that these celebrities would adequately represent them in the European Parliament, especially now that Europe is at a crossroads and the European Parliament is confronted with the urgent need to assert its political role within the union, and find its physiognomy.
If we analyze the ballot outcomes, we can see that the governmental party of New Democracy (center- right) delegated 5 members to the European Parliament. New Democracy’s ballot for the European Parliament seemed, at first sight, not sufficient enough. But, from what was finally proven, it was exactly what the majority of the Greek electorate wanted, as they voted for two very famous TV personalities form the field of journalism, one woman, who is a well-know lawyer as well as a former member of the Greek Parliament (and a former actress as well) equally familiar from television platforms, another former MP with deep political roots as he comes from a very famous family of Greek politicians, and last but not least, the leader of the Greek National Football Team of 2004.
A similar pattern can be observed on the ballot papers of the major Greek opposition party SYRIZA (radical-left), which is the winner of the EU Parliamentary Elections, and will send 6 delegates to Brussels. Among these delegates is a very famous Greek athlete, who is a member of the Greek Parliament and had distinguished herself in javelin and won metals at an international level during the ‘80s. Two other candidates of SYRIZA who were elected are university professors, constitutionalists, who gained recognition from their participation on prime time TV programmes and news bulletins. Their recognizable television personalities helped them achieve their goal of becoming members of the EU Parliament, leaving behind other candidates with longer and deeper experience in European politics.
Even in a political party called “The River” (in Greek “To potami”), which had been newly founded specifically for the European Council elections, those candidates prevailed who were famous either because they come from well-known families of politicians, or are actors who became popular through TV advertisements rather than on the basis of their other work. Noteworthy is the fact that “River”, backed by a famous TV journalist, had a list of candidates with highly valued personalities and academics that have written many articles of political content in newspapers and other media. So here, the selection criteria seemed already skewed towards televisual recognisability.
Finally, the trend is also confirmed by the elected EU Parliament member from the political party of the “Independent Greeks” (“Anexartiti Ellines” in Greek), who has also spent many hours on the different television platforms. Similarly, the newly elected EU Parliament member from the political party of “The Olive Tree” (“Elia”, in Greek) is a beautiful young lady, a former member of the Greek Parliament and ex-TV anchorwoman.
Putting it kindly, this phenomenon is called “televised recognition”. The words mostly used in order to describe it are “celebrities”, “tele-personalities”, “lifestyle personalities”, “famous”, “Greek jet set” etc. And it is that specific group of candidates that were the real winners of the European elections of 2014. Of course, this does not mean that all popular and well-known personalities are not qualified or are too inept to be members of the EU Parliament. This assumption would be unfounded as well as unfair towards all those who have gained a broad public appeal due to their qualifications, gifts and work. However, it is indisputable that “televised recognition”, as far as the electorate’s choices are concerned, is gaining more and more ground every day. This trend goes beyond the limits of the candidate selection process and reflects a whole culture that dominates Greek society.
The general conclusion is that the Greek electorate voted for its representatives in the new European Parliament in line with the televised publicity afforded the candidates. In Greece, if you want to become famous and appeal to the average person of Greek public opinion, you have to be a media celebrity. This means you either have to appear on popular prime time TV programmes, or you have to be part of the Greek jet set and have your photos published in lifestyle tabloids and popular magazines. In other words, the medium at the centre of decision making for the majority of Greek society, politics and public opinion is Greek television.
Katerina Serafeim holds a PhD in Journalism and Mass Media, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and works as a journalist in the Press Office of the Regional Local Government of Central Macedonia,Greece. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.