The 2019 European Elections
From 23 to 26 May 2019 citizens in all European Union member states will cast their votes in the ninth elections for the European Parliament. This time the poll takes place under extraordinary circumstances - not just because of the prospect of a chaotic Brexit.
Since the middle of 2018 the current members of the European Parliament have been in campaign mode. The reason is simple: all of the institution's 751 seats are up for redistribution this spring. At the moment it is uncertain that the next parliament will once again consist of 751 seats. Brexit, if it goes ahead, will remove Britain's MEPs from the parliament, significantly downsizing the institution.
A difficult task
The European Parliament has existed since 1952 and has been elected directly since 1979. Before the citizens of the EU cast their votes directly, each of the national parliaments sent delegates to the body who then exercised two functions in parallel. Initially, the national governments and parliaments worried that the EU Parliament would diminish their influence. As a result it took 27 years before a system of direct election was established and the parliamentarians were able to give up their double role. In the first direct elections for the European Parliament, 410 delegates were deputised to Strasbourg, forming five parliamentary groups.
In successive steps over the subsequent decades, the parliament was furnished with more and more powers. After gaining budgetary competencies in the 1970s it attained further rights when the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty came into effect in 1987 and 1993, respectively. In 1999 the parliament gained influence over the appointment of the EU Commission. The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force in 2009, is the parliament's current legal basis. It brought another expansion of the institution's rights - and therefore also increased the significance of the European Parliament election.
The mechanics behind the election
As an institution the European Parliament is on a par with the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. Its seats are divided among the member states based on the principle of degressive proportionality. It means that parliamentarians from member states with smaller populations represent fewer citizens each than MEPs from states with larger populations. This ensures that the inhabitants of smaller countries are adequately represented on the European level.
The candidates are vying for the favour of around 400 million voters across 27 member states. Everyone who is an EU citizen as defined by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is eligible to vote. Each country votes according to its national electoral law by direct universal suffrage in a free and secret ballot. There is no uniform pan-European suffrage. Currently the European Parliament is divided into eight parliamentary groups and a group of non-attached members.
The election's significance
Over the past few years observers have noted a phenomenon that could also have an effect on the forthcoming European Parliament elections: increasingly, voters have turned away from well-established political parties, while at the same time populist movements and parties, some of them with anti-European agendas, have gained momentum.
As a result the traditional political actors could be challenged by a new Eurosceptic parliamentary group in the EU Parliament. Not only would such a group represent one of the largest alliances in the parliament, it could also initiate a reform process aimed at limiting the influence of the EU while strengthening the independence of the individual member states.
The composition of the next European Parliament will also influence the formation of the next European Commission, whose president is elected by the parties in the parliament. Only those candidates are accepted who have previously campaigned as leading candidates in the European Parliament elections for their respective parties. Brexit will cause the Social Democratic parties to suffer severe losses while a number of established parties have had to contend with poor results in national polls. One possible result is that the combined votes of the Social Democrats and the Christian Conservatives will not suffice to elect a Commission President and that other parties could find themselves in the kingmaker role.
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