By Luke Baker
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Six out of 10 Europeans are "not that interested" in the European Parliament elections later this month, according to a poll released on Thursday, despite huge efforts by campaign managers to make the ballot more relevant.
The survey of nearly 9,000 people in 12 EU countries found 62 percent were either "not at all" or "not so much" interested in the May 22-25 vote, which will decide the leadership of the European Union for the next five years.
Only 35 percent of respondents said they would definitely vote, substantially below the 43 percent average turnout at the last election in 2009.
The greatest enthusiasm was registered in Belgium (53 percent), where voting is required by law, followed by France (44 percent) and the Netherlands (41 percent). The lowest was in Britain (27 percent) and Poland (20 percent).
Far-right groups are expected to do well or even win the elections in both France and the Netherlands, potentially making them a powerful force in the next European Parliament. The right-wing UKIP party is also expected to do well in Britain.
The survey also provided some interesting views on Europe's leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the most recognizable and has the highest approval rating, with 51 percent either "very positive" or "fairly positive" about her.
Britain's David Cameron came second, with 35 percent of those surveyed broadly positive. The least popular was French President Francois Hollande, with only a 20 percent positive rating and 32 percent negative - the highest negative score of any European leader by far.
The elections will not only decide the 751 deputies who will sit in the European Parliament from 2014-2019, but more than likely determine who leads the European Commission, the EU executive that holds the right to propose legislation.
Europe's main political groups - the center-left Socialists, the center-right EPP and the Liberals - have each nominated a top candidate for the Commission and hope that if they win, their candidate will become the next Commission president.
But in a worrying sign for all three campaigns, which have worked hard to boost the visibility of their candidates over the past two months, the survey showed more than 60 percent of people do not know who any of the candidates are.
The survey was conducted by Ipsos-MORI during April. A total of 8,833 people were polled in Belgium, Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Tom Heneghan)