MEP elections: Quo Vadis EU?

The MEP elections have come and gone. The elected MEPs will represent for a five-year period some 500 million Europeans, making these the biggest transnational elections in history. It is also the only multinational parliament in the world to be voted in through universal suffrage!

The European elections are now behind us, but many questions have yet to be answered. The next few days should cast more light on who will be the next Commission president and which political groups will find common ground to shape the agenda of the new Parliament.

New Commission president

The Conference of Presidents, which consists of the leaders of parliamentary groups and the EP president, met early on Tuesday 27 May, to discuss what the results of the European elections mean for the political landscape in Europe and Parliament itself, as well as how they will influence the election of the president of the European Commission.

For the first time ever, European political parties presented official candidates for the top post of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body in charge of formulating and enforcing the EU policies that have to be approved by the Parliament and the national governments. On election night, most of these candidates said that the new Commission president should be one of them.

The official nomination should come over the coming weeks from the European Council, where the EU heads of state or government meet. The first step for them is the informal dinner they have in Brussels on Tuesday evening to discuss the issue. The Lisbon Treaty states that in their choice of candidate, they should take into account the results of the elections.

The nominated candidate will then try to rally support from political groups in Parliament, which is expected to vote on whether to approve or not the Council candidate during the 14-17 July plenary session. For the nominee to get the EP’s approval, over half of all MEPs, meaning at least 376, should vote in his or her favour.

New political groups

Another issue to watch for is whether new groups emerge in the Parliament following the elections. Under the EP’s rules of procedure, at least 25 MEPs from a quarter of all EU countries (i.e. seven) are needed to form a new group. The official political groups in EP should be established before the first plenary session starting on 1 July. During the first plenary session in July, MEPs will choose a new president and the vice-presidents of the Parliament.

Provisional results published showed EPP winning 213 seats in the new Parliament, ahead of S&D (190 seats), ALDE (64 seats) and the Greens (53 seats). ECR is projected to win 46 seats, GUE/NGL 42 and EFD -38. The number of MEPs coming from parties/lists that were among those non-attached in the outgoing Parliament is 41, while another 64 seats were won by new parties/candidates still not aligned to any of the existing groups. The results will be updated until they are final.

In addition to the high-profile matter of who should be appointed to its top jobs, the EU’s policy agenda for the next year or two includes several very tricky issues which will test the ability of the EU’s institutions to arrive at viable and satisfactory solutions. In particular, the reforms of economic governance in response to the euro crisis remain incomplete and will require difficult decisions about the underlying policy stance, burden-sharing among Member States, and the balance of power between the supranational and national levels. Many of the recent and prospective initiatives in this area, such as mutualisation of debt or the creation of additional fiscal capacities and powers to help with macroeconomic stabilisation, will deepen integration at a time when voters seems to want the opposite.

At first sight, therefore, the new European Parliament looks like a recipe for gridlock in decision-making. Not only is the traditional left-right division now overlaid by a more unpredictable division between Europhiles and Euro sceptics, but a clear message has also been sent to the elites that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Yet a more subtle interpretation could be that the procrastination and squabbling over second-order concerns cannot continue and that all the institutions need to look for more comprehensive and coherent solutions. Despite the headlines about Euro scepticism, the voice of those worst affected by the crisis is now louder. Could it be that a more sanguine reading of these electoral results is warranted?

Radical right-wing parties have emerged as the main winners of the 2014 European Parliament elections. UKIP beat both its Labour and Conservative rivals in the UK, while in France the Front National topped the polls with 25 per cent and 25 MEPs. Radical right-wing parties came third in Austria, second in Hungary, and third in Greece, where the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn emerged as the third party with just over 9 per cent according to latest estimates.

The EP election results will clearly have great implications for the political landscape in Europe. It confirms the recession of two-party politics and the advancement of left Euro criticism.

One Last point

One last point that will be interesting to analyze will be voter turnout. When it comes to the elections for the European Parliament, the turnout has tended to be well under 50%, on average. A closer look at specific member states reveals an even worse record. After all, not only is it true that only very few countries have compulsory voting, but that one could also easily argue that citizens also have the right to abstain from voting. Naturally, though, a high turnout would have provided the European Parliament with a renewed and stronger political power, its decisions and work backed by a high citizenry electoral participation.

Voting is one of the core democratic rights citizens hold. Looking beyond Europe’s borders, in many parts of the world, this is a right people are still fighting and dying for. Moreover, for European Union citizens in particular, the European Parliament is involved in many aspects of their daily lives. The decisions taken in the EP do affect our lives in a very direct and concrete manner. Even though member states diverge significantly in their governments’ efforts to raise awareness and provide information regarding the European elections, the Internet is a transnational tool available to the vast majority of citizens, providing them with vast, accurate and explanatory information. If citizens do wish to take Europe’s destiny into their own hands, they should definitely consider voting for the next European elections!

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