By means of a direct vote on May 23rd-26th 2019, citizens in 27 EU Member States will go to pools, in order to elect 705 MEPs, who are to form the new European Parliament, i.e. the world’s largest transnational, democratically elected institution. Around 400 million Europeans of voting age coming from each of the EU Member States will have the chance to choose who will represent them in the EU Parliament for the next five years.
But why are the elections so important?
The European Parliament is part of the so-called institutional triangle, alongside the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, making up the legislative and the executive power of the EU. Together, these institutions are responsible for policy-making and decisions, while the Commission proposes EU legislation jointly adopted by the Parliament and the Council.
Thus, a Parliament is a directly elected body, with legislative, supervisory, and budgetary responsibilities. It was established in 1952 as the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community and the first elections were held back in 1979.
The main role of the EU Parliament is the legislative one. It passes EU laws, together with the Council of the EU and based on the European Commission’s proposals, decides on internal agreements, reviews the Commission’s work programme and asks it to propose legislation.
The Parliament also has a supervisory function: it votes for electing the Commission’s President and approves the Commission as a body, having the possibility of voting a motion of censure and obliging the Commission to resign. Moreover, the hierarchy of the political groups in the EP, as an outcome of the elections, leads to the designation of the candidate for the position of President of the European Commission.
The EP also questions the Commission and the Council, examines citizens’ petitions and sets up inquiries.
Furthermore, the EU Parliament establishes the EU budget, together with the Council, and approves the EU’s long-term budget, namely the Multiannual Financial Framework.
At present, the EU Parliament has 751 members, who are directly elected. However, because of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, in the context of BREXIT, the new Parliament will have a different composition – the seats will decrease to 705.
They are headed by a President and 14 Vice Presidents. Seats are divided among Member States proportionately to their population, with a minimum of 6 seats and a current maximum of 96 seats.
Every five years, the members of the European Parliament are elected in their home countries and organize themselves in Brussels into larger European parties, according not to their nationality, but their ideological lines and affiliation.
The European Parties
The Group of the European People’s Party (EPP Group) is the largest group in the European Parliament. Its roots reach back to Europe’s Founding Fathers – Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer – and its members come from all of Europe’s Member States. It is a centre-right group, committed to creating a stronger Europe, built on its people. Their goal is to create a more competitive and democratic Europe, where people can build the life they want.
The Socialist & Democrats (S&D Group) is the leading centre-left political group in the European Parliament and the second largest, with 189 members from all 28 EU countries. The S&D Group stands for an inclusive European society based on the principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, diversity and fairness. Its MEPs are committed to fight for social justice, jobs and growth, consumer rights and sustainable development. The S&D Group’s main priorities are to fight unemployment and ensure that our societies and markets become fairer.
The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR Group) is a centre-right political group in the European Parliament, known as euro-sceptic and anti-federalist and founded in 2009, with a common cause to reform the EU on the basis of euro-realism, while respecting the sovereignty of nations and focusing on economic recovery, growth and competitiveness.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE Group) is a transnational alliance between two European political parties – the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party and the European Democratic Party. The pro-European platform of ALDE adopts liberal economics and supports the European integration and Single Market.
The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA Group) is the political group in the European Parliament reuniting green, regionalist and left-wing nationalist political parties. Their ideology is based on environmental responsibility, individual freedom, inclusive democracy, diversity, social justice, gender equality, global sustainable development and non-violence.
European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL Group) is a left-wing political group in the European Parliament established in 1995. Their mission is to make the European Union more human, more transparent and more tangible. They want more direct democracy and active participation of the citizens, equal rights for women and men, civil rights and liberties and the enforcement of human rights.
Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy is a populist euro-sceptic political group in the European Parliament. This group is opposed to European integration. 24 out of its 47 MEPs were from the United Kingdom, representing the UK Independence Party.
Europe of Nations and Freedom is a political group in the European Parliament launched on June 15th 2015. With 36 members, this group is the smallest in the European Parliament. It is a right-wing party promoting euro-scepticism and nationalism and having an anti-immigration policy.
The EU elections have faced a falling voter turnout in the last years, with a turnout rate of just 42.6% during the 2014 elections; slightly better, however, than the 2009 rate of 39% turnout. Low turnout seems to become a common trend and young voters abstain more than the general population in all European democracies. During the 2014 European elections, only 28% of the youth aged under 25 years old casted their vote.
According to the latest euro-barometer, half of the Europeans are interested in the EU elections and almost one third of them know the date of the elections. In addition, two thirds of the Europeans believe their country has benefited from being a member of the EU. These optimistic figures, the highest in 35 years, must be translated into a high turnout during the EU elections.
However, gaps and obstacles remain: populism and anti-EU parties are getting stronger, while disinformation, fake news and trolling are most visible during the electoral campaigns, in an attempt to hamper with the EU elections, undermine pro-European values, and promote nationalist and xenophobic messages.
New tools and approaches are needed to translate these messages from the grass root level and connect them to the EU public policies, favouring a more bottom-up approach, closer to the EU citizens. There is an urgent need to raise awareness and know-how among youth on the importance of the 2019 EU elections and empower them with the needed tools, in order to gain momentum and influence over the EU’s direction.
This time I’m voting
This time I’m voting is the official campaign of the European Parliament, independent from any political party and ideology, whose objective is to promote democratic engagement in the European elections. It was launched at the European Youth Event in 2018, aiming to encourage EU Member States’ citizens to vote and, therefore, increase the voter turnout. More information on this campaign can be found at thistimeimvoting.eu.
As European citizens, it is our duty and responsibility to be an active part of these elections. This is our opportunity to make our voice heard and shape the European Union as we want it to be. This time I’m voting is not only a slogan, but also our chance to model the future of Europe and be part of the change, especially during times when democracy and the rule of law in Europe are threatened. It is important to vote, so as to we make a clear statement about the idea that Europe chooses to remain united, celebrate its diversity and protect its democratic specificities.