Finding a match in the European elections

Screengrab Stemwijzer Image copyright Screengrab Stemwijzer
Image caption The Stemwijzer online test is now a well-established part of Dutch elections

The story of the European Parliament elections since they began in 1979 is partly a story of voter apathy.

In 2009 voter turnout EU-wide was 43% - but in the UK the figure was 34.7% and the lowest was in Slovakia, with just 19.6%.

In an effort to make the elections more engaging various universities and civil society groups, like Open Society Foundations (OSF), have given voters web tools so that they can see which parties match their opinions.

The European Parliament has sponsored some of the tools, called Voting Advice Applications (VAAs).

OSF is funding three: EUvox2014,Electio2014 and Votematch.

Electio2014 gives you brief background on the issues covered by the 20 questions - quite user-friendly, compared with some of the others out there.

It was designed by political scientists from the London School of Economics and New York University. The tool is part of the Votewatch Europe project led by the LSE's Prof Simon Hix.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption German election posters: The variety of parties and policies can make it hard to choose

How much clarity?

In Germany voters can go on Wahl-O-Mat, set up by the German federal authorities, with the country's top media organisations as partners.

I couldn't find helpful policy summaries on Wahl-O-Mat, but it was entertaining to see my "matches" in various countries. You can find some small-party friends you never knew you had. However, 38 questions seems quite a lot.

France's Le Monde has a similar questionnaire - but I found the results more perplexing.

How does a first-time voter feel about these online tools?

Rachel Hosie, a 21-year-old researcher at the BBC Brussels office, says "a lot of young people don't vote, purely because they just don't know enough about the EU".

Image caption This emailed photo shows one young British voter's excitement

So in her view, "for first-time voters in the European elections and those who aren't EU-buffs, the idea of a quick online quiz that could help you decide which box to tick is appealing.

Yet some of the VAAs are "full of complex terms and references to unfamiliar agreements, which could be off-putting", she says.

And the outcomes are not necessarily decisive.

"When your matches result in Labour, UKIP and Green MEPs on an equal footing it's easy to leave the quiz more confused than when you started."

A student friend of hers, Caroline Styr, said about these elections: "I wasn't excited, but then my brother sent me some links to some online surveys to help you find out your views and then I got quite into it."

The cross-party European consensus on certain issues can be surprising for those more used to party discipline at Westminster.

But Hermann Kelly, spokesman for the Eurosceptic group which includes UKIP, called VAAs "a complete and utter waste of time, because they don't give a clear line on national parties' ideology and policies - just a general feeling".

Vote 2014

Image copyright AFP

Full coverage of the European elections and results

OSF project coordinator Peter Matjasic says VAAs are aimed at broadening voter participation and understanding of political parties, so that people "think about the substance, beyond personalities and images".

VAAs first became popular in the early 2000s in the Netherlands, then Germany and Switzerland, he told the BBC.

The Dutch Stemwijzer tool was used by 40% of the electorate (4.7 million) in the 2006 national elections, Mr Matjasic said.

According to OSF research, people who used such a tool were 14% more likely to vote than those who did not.

But the tools are not cheap. A sophisticated one, in several languages and with data on MEPs' voting records, can cost around 10,000 euros (£8,170; $13,710) per country, OSF says.

Some efforts to get young voters interested are less conventional.

A cartoon video on YouTube called Voteman, put out by the Danish parliament, was withdrawn after complaints about its sex and violence.

And Politinder guides you to "your date for EU election night". There it's just looks that count - no information about the MEPs' opinions.