Final Day of EP Elections Arrives

EU Parliament chamber in Strasbourg, France. Photo: jeffowenphotos for Wikimedia Commons

European Parliament chamber in Strasbourg, France. Photo: jeffowenphotos for Wikimedia Commons

400 million people can vote in the European Parliament (EP) election, taking place across the European Union from May 22 to May 25. The only democratically elected institution in the European Union, the EP brings together the 751 Members of Parliament (MEPs) from the 28 states, who will not only set the course of European policies for the next five years, but also elect the leader of the EU’s executive body, the European Commission President.

The importance of these elections and of the European Parliament have often been underestimated by European voters. The Lisbon Treaty of 2009 has increased the powers of Parliament, which means it has also increased the power of the voters. This year, people’s say in European policy-making is greater than ever, and should be the focus and purpose of the elections. However, the financial crisis, high immigration, high unemployment and cuts in the welfare state have provoked a rise in extremist and populist parties at both ends of the political spectrum, many of which advocate for withdrawal from the EU.

In January 2014, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, said that the election might become “a festival of unfounded reproaches against Europe.” It is thus believed that the elections are an arena for voters to punish mainstream parties for their unpopular decisions and also an arena that has fallen prey to extreme Euroscepticism, whose representatives, if elected, might make the EU policy process more difficult and ineffective.

The reasons to vote in this election are not always clear for European citizens as the focus of the electoral campaigns often falls on the negatives of the Union or the negatives of the party in government. However, the crucial role the Parliament has in formulating legislation that affects Europeans is often overlooked. MEPs emerging from the elections will shape European legislation over the next five years in areas from the single market to civil liberties. The Parliament is now a cornerstone of the European decision-making system and has an equal say with national governments on virtually all EU laws.

The Lisbon Treaty also mandates that MEPs determine who will lead the next European Commission, the EU’s executive body, which initiates legislation and supervises its implementation. Under the new rules, EU government leaders, who will propose a candidate for the post of the future Commission President, must do so on the basis of the election results. The European Parliament will elect the new Commission President by a majority of the component members. European political parties will therefore, or have already, put forward their candidates for this leading position in the EU before the European elections, thus allowing citizens to have a say over next Commission President.

Whether Europeans are aware of the influence the EU has on their lives and whether they know how they can have their input on EU policy-making is a difficult question to answer. Hot-button issues such as the financial crisis and the complications of bailouts for some member states, high unemployment, the austerity cuts and changing immigration restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians have brought EU policy to the forefront of European debate. However, reactions have often been negative and focused on the potential withdrawal from the EU, rather than understanding how to work within the EU to improve one’s quality of life.

Stefani Simeonova, European Studies student and the Communications Officer for the European Society at King’s College London, shares her thoughts on how crucial these elections are for the future of the European Union: “We can influence positive change in the EU by voting, effectively exercising our European rights and promoting more democratic legitimacy. It is the way in which we can shape the European project as we have a say in who represents us in Parliament. These elections will directly affect the future development of the union and our voting rights give us a chance to be a part of that very special development. More than ever peace in Europe and in the world depends on the solidarity and cooperation amongst EU nations”.

 

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