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What’s on the Line in the European Parliament Election Wrapping Up This Sunday

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Almost 400 million European Union citizens have cast their votes this week to elect members of the European Parliament (MEPs), making it one of the largest democratic events globally.

Amid rising living costs and farmer dissatisfaction, far-right parties are striving for increased influence, while ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine weigh heavily on voters’ minds.

A pivotal question revolves around whether European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will retain her leadership role as the EU’s public face.

Here’s an overview of the election and its significant issues:

WHEN IS THE VOTE?

EU elections occur every five years across the 27-member bloc. This marks the 10th parliamentary election since the inaugural polls in 1979 and the first post-Brexit election.

The elections commenced on Thursday in the Netherlands and conclude on Sunday, with most countries holding their elections on this day. Initial results can only be disclosed in the evening after polling stations close across all member states.

HOW DOES VOTING WORK?

Voting is conducted through direct universal suffrage in a single ballot.

The number of MEPs elected in each country varies based on population size, ranging from six for Malta, Luxembourg, and Cyprus to 96 for Germany. In 2019, Europeans elected 751 lawmakers. Following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU in 2020, the number of MEPs decreased to 705, with some of the 73 seats previously held by British MEPs redistributed to other member states.

Post-election, the European Parliament will add 15 additional members, bringing the total to 720, with twelve countries receiving extra MEPs.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO VOTE?

The minimum voting age is typically 18 across most member states. Belgium reduced it to 16 in a law enacted in 2022. Germany, Malta, and Austria also allow 16-year-olds to vote. In Greece, the minimum voting age is 17.

A minimum age requirement also applies for candidates standing for election, ranging from 18 in most countries to 25 in Italy and Greece.

WHAT ABOUT VOTER TURNOUT?

European Union elections typically witness moderate voter turnout, but there was a notable increase in public interest during the 2019 election. At 50.7%, the turnout was eight percentage points higher than in 2014, following a steady decline since 1979, when it stood at 62%.

In April, the latest European Parliament Eurobarometer edition highlighted a surge in interest in the upcoming election, with approximately 71% of Europeans expressing intentions to cast their ballots.

MAJOR ISSUES AT STAKE

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine remains a top concern for voters, with defense and security being pivotal campaign issues. At the national level, defense and security within the EU were cited first in nine countries.

Other significant issues include the economy, job market, poverty, social exclusion, public health, climate change, and the future of Europe.

ROLE OF EU LAWMAKERS

The European Parliament, elected by European citizens, serves as a vital counterforce to the EU’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission.

Although the parliament lacks the authority to propose legislation, its influence is expanding. It now has jurisdiction over a wide range of areas, including voting on laws concerning climate, banking regulations, agriculture, fisheries, security, and justice. Additionally, the parliament votes on the EU budget, which is crucial for implementing European policies, such as aid to Ukraine.

MEPs play a crucial role in the checks and balances system, as they must approve the appointment of all EU commissioners, equivalent to ministers. Moreover, they hold the power to force the entire commission to resign with a two-thirds majority vote.

CURRENT COMPOSITION OF THE PARLIAMENT

The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) is the largest political group in the European Parliament, holding 176 out of 705 seats as of the end of the last plenary session in April.

Ursula von der Leyen, from the EPP, aims to continue leading the EU’s executive arm following the election.

The second-largest group is the center-left Party of European Socialists (S&D), with 139 seats. The pro-business liberal and pro-European Renew group holds 102 seats, followed by an alliance of green and regionalist political parties with 72 seats.

RISE OF FAR-RIGHT PARTIES

Two groups comprising far-right parties, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), may emerge as the third- and fourth-largest political groups in the European Parliament. Despite their differences, it remains unclear how extensively they could collaborate to influence the EU’s agenda, particularly regarding efforts to support Ukraine against Russia in the ongoing conflict.

The stability of the EPP and S&D is anticipated, while pro-business liberals and greens may experience setbacks after their significant gains in the previous election.

POST-ELECTION SCENARIO

Following the determination of each political force’s influence, MEPs will elect their president during the first plenary session from July 16-19. Subsequently, likely in September after weeks of negotiations, they will nominate the European Commission president, based on a proposal from the member states.

In 2019, Ursula von der Leyen secured a narrow majority (383 votes in favor, 327 against, 22 abstentions) to become the first female head of the institution. MEPs will also scrutinize European commissioners before approving them through a single vote.

While von der Leyen stands a good chance of securing another term, she must garner sufficient support from leaders. Her potential collaboration with the hard right, depending on the election outcome, has stirred opposition from many lawmakers.