The European Parliament shares power over the EU (European Union) budget and legislation with the Council of the European Union (EU governments), plays a key role in electing the President of the European Commission and makes sure other EU institutions are working democratically.
The Members of the European Parliament are elected in the member states and represent the interests of the EU’s 500 million inhabitants. Over the years and with subsequent changes in European treaties, the Parliament has acquired substantial legislative and budgetary powers.
Between May 23 and 26, millions will choose who represents them at the European Parliament (EP), the European Union‘s (EU) parliamentary institution directly elected by citizens aged 18 or older.
The EU is often considered an obscure and technocratic body – somewhere between a nation-state and an international organisation such as the United Nations. Many have lost faith in their ability to improve their lives.
But with Brexit looming and nationalist populism on the rise, this year’s election – a political event held every five years – is seen by many as decisive for its future.
What are the European Parliament elections?
The European Parliament is the chief legislative body of the European Union. It is currently comprised of 751 members of the European Parliament from 28 member states. (If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the number of member states will be 27.) Its membership is decided through a series of elections that occur once every five years. The European Parliament elections, due to take place from May 23 to 26, are one of the largest democratic events in the world. Around 450 million European citizens will have the opportunity to influence the future direction of the European Union.
How will the election work?
The EP is effectively the lower house of the EU’s legislative branch. It can’t propose legislation – that’s the European Commission’s prerogative – or decide on a budget like a regular parliament. But all EU laws must be approved by a majority of EP members (MEPs) to then be applied in all 28 member states.
Originally, the EP’s powers were limited. But as the EU grew and its member states shared more responsibilities, the EP became co-legislator with the European Council.
Elections are held at the national level and respect each country’s electoral tradition. The British and the Dutch will be first to vote on May 23, followed by the Irish on May 24, and the Maltese, Latvians and the Slovaks on May 25. Most countries will vote on May 26, a Sunday. The minimum age to vote is 18, except in Austria and Malta where it’s 16.
There are 751 seats, but this number will go down to 705 after Britain exits the bloc.
Each member state is allocated a certain number of representatives, or MEPs, depending on their total population.
Germany, the most populous EU member, will send 96 MEPs to Brussels, whereas Malta and Luxembourg only get to elect six.
Every country votes on the principle of proportional representation, meaning that each political party or list of candidates gets a number of seats equivalent to their share of the vote.
A party needs to gather at least 5% of the votes in one country to enter the European Parliament (EP).
There are eight pan-European political groups that MEPs can choose to join.
It takes 25 MEPs from seven different countries to form a political group.
The two largest groups are the centre-right European People Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D). The right-wing eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) is the third largest.
Current EP President Antonio Tajani, an Italian, is with the EPP (European People’s Party).
What powers does the European Parliament have?
The European Parliament is the only legislative body in the world whose decisions have a direct legal effect in multiple sovereign nations. European Parliament is a directly elected EU legislature with supervisory and budgetary responsibilities as well as its role as the locus of democratic debate on EU-level issues and action. The European Parliament has powers over important decisions such as how public money is spent through the European Union’s common budget and how the European Single Market is regulated.
How could this election change the European Union?
The elections are taking place during a period of political turmoil for the European Union. An increasing number of European politicians do not embrace democracy, the rule of law, nondiscrimination, and other open society values. If elected to the European Parliament, these members of the European Parliament could join together and roll back Europeans’ benefits and rights.
Regions and the number of MEPs they elect
East Midlands – 5
East of England – 7
London – 8
North East England – 3
North West England – 8
South East England – 10
South West England (and Gibraltar) – 6
West Midlands – 7
Scotland – 6
Yorkshire and the Humber – 6
Wales – 4
Northern Ireland – 3
Who is standing in the EU elections – and what have they got to lose?
Labour is the biggest British party in the European Parliament with 19 seats.
The Tories have 18, the SNP have two, Greens three, Sinn Fein one and the Ulster and Democratic unionists have one apiece.
But this is totally different from when the elections were held in 2014.
The biggest party then was UKIP, who won 24 seats and 26.6% of the vote.
Since then UKIP (UK Independence Party) have totally collapsed. Concerns over the party’s new hard-right direction and a number of personal squabbles.
The then UKIP party leader Nigel Farage now leads a group of nine defectors as the Brexit Party.
UKIP has just seven MEPs left with other sitting as independents or one as a representative for the new SDP.
Pollsters have warned the elections will be unpredictable, with the risk that both main parties – Labour and the Tories – will take a hit amid the Brexit chaos as votes go to smaller parties.
One Tory MEP – David Campbell Bannerman – predicted the Tories will “get a kicking” and be down to 10 MEPs.
And the Conservatives had only around a week to recruit candidates – with Labour giving themselves around 10 days.