EU Elections Underway
Today the Netherlands and the UK launch the start of four days of voting for EU-wide European Parliament elections, the full results of which will be announced after the final poll has closed on Sunday, 25 May at 11:ooPM Brussels time. The vote will decide who will hold the 751 seats in the parliament wherein seats are allocated in proportion to each member state’s population. Most of the 28 member states will vote on Sunday.
In the first elections that will enact the changes ratified by the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s 500 million citizens are voting to shape a parliament that has much more power than it used to have– a crossroad quietly, but problematically, underscored by the institution’s steadily declining voter turnout. The Lisbon Treaty has produced significant changes in many areas of the EU, two of which are of particular importance to today’s elections. First is the notable increase in power given to the Parliament and its MEPs in policy decisions. Since 2009, the parliament has yielded a growing voice in the Union’s decision making process. Second, is an impact that up to this point has remained entirely speculative– that is, an election result’s effect on the selection of the next European Commission President. Morphing the parliamentary elections into a segued presidential race is a hope for growing democratic legitimacy by way of increased voter turnout.
Families within the main political parties – center-right, center-left, liberal, green, and left- are not simply campaigning for a spot in the parliament, they are also announcing their lead candidate for the Presidential position should their party win the most seats. Why is this important? Because the President of the Commission is voted in by a qualified majority. The majority of political parties agree that Barroso’s successor should come from the most popularly elected party. This means the candidate of the largest political group is likely to win the vote for the Presidency, just as Barroso came from the largest party, the EPP, when he assumed the Presidency in 2004.
Voters must realize, then, how their vote influences the selection of the commission president. Guy Verhofstadt, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Martin Schulz seem to be among the frontrunners for the Presidency within their respective parties, and each of whom represent various support for the policy preferences of the Big 5 in EU politics. Though perhaps more importantly is the implication of each candidate’s succession and his ability to successfully navigate interactions between the EU’s various institutions all the while managing- or encouraging- Germany’s, and Merkel’s, ever-growing influence in Brussels.
Thus today citizens are not simply voting for parliamentarians, but for the future trajectory of the EU as a whole.