Guide to the EU election process

Today marks the beginning of the European elections in which 373 million voters will have a direct say in reshaping the political landscape of the EU. This year’s elections are anticipated to bring a notable shift to the right, impacting the EU’s policy focus on security and migration, and reflecting the broader rise of populist and nationalist movements across Europe.

With 373 million voters electing 720 members of the European Parliament, the European elections represent one of the key political events whose outcome will shape world politics for years to come.

European elections represent a crucial political event shaping global politics.

This year’s elections are expected to result in a significant political shift to the right, which could lead to changes in the EU’s priorities, with a greater focus on security and a stricter approach to migration. This potential change is not surprising and reflects broader political trends in Europe, where populist and nationalist parties have gained a significant foothold in recent years.

The results of the elections will determine the balance of power in the European Parliament and will influence the direction of the EU policy, and thus of its members, in the next five years. Despite this, the principle of functioning of European elections is often unknown both for those outside the EU and for many citizens of the member states.

After the Guide to the American Elections, IPESE brings you the Guide to the EU Election Process, with the help of which you will more easily understand the basics of EU electoral mechanisms, their importance and impact on the future of the European Union.

Electoral process and voting mechanics

Between June 6 and 9, voters in 27 member states will go to the polls to choose the composition of the next European Parliament. The system of proportional representation on which European elections are based ensures that even smaller parties are equally represented. Larger countries have more seats in the European Parliament — Germany has 96 seats, France 81, while smaller countries such as Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg have six each.

The elections for the European Parliament are actually not a single election in which citizens choose their parliamentarians, but represent a system of 27 national elections held in each of the member states.

The electoral process is designed so that every EU citizen has the right to vote on the governance of the Union ― voters vote for the political parties of their country, and the parties then send their representatives to the European Parliament based on the number of preferential votes they received in the elections. Political parties have their own candidates for whom voters can vote directly, but they can also decide to vote only for parties; in that case, the votes automatically go to the first candidate on the list. Although Europeans elect MEPs and not a president, the vote has an indirect effect on who becomes president of three key EU institutions: the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.

Current polls indicate that there will be a shift in the European Parliament towards more traditional political options, with the European People’s Party expected to gain strength as a centre-right group.

After the elections, MEPs form parliamentary groups with parliamentarians of the same orientation from other countries. There are currently seven groups, the largest of which is the European People’s Party (there are also the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the Party of European Conservatives and Reformists, Renew Europe, Identity and Democracy, the Greens – EFA, the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left and certain the number of undetermined deputies). Parliamentary groups in the European Parliament are based on common ideologies and goals. Their composition may change after each election, reflecting changes in voter preferences and dynamics.

Electing EU leadership

Political grouping ie. the parliamentary group that wins the most mandates in the elections should nominate the next president of the European Commission. The election of the President of the European Commission is a key step in the formation of the EU executive branch. The President sets the Commission’s agenda and represents the EU on the global stage. The approval process for the President of the Commission and other trustees is a test of Parliament’s ability to assert its authority and influence over the executive. In addition to the EC president, the parliament needs to approve 26 national commissioners who are in charge of areas identified as key to European politics.

The Parliament is often seen as the EU’s weakest institution, but it still plays a key role in the legislative process. Although MEPs do not have the power to propose new laws, they can amend them through negotiations with the Council and the Commission. This process, known as a “trilogue,” can be complex and contentious, but it ensures that different perspectives are considered in the law-making process. At the end of the negotiations, all laws come to the Parliament for a vote, which means that the Parliament still plays a key role in shaping the policies of the Union.

The electoral process allows every EU citizen the right to vote on Union governance.

Traditionally, the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council were chosen by EU leaders in closed meetings, after which the names of the candidates were submitted to the European Parliament, whose members would have to approve the proposal with an absolute majority. This made sense as long as the President of the European Commission had a largely bureaucratic role.

However, over the past years, the office of the President of the Commission has built its influence and acquired considerable power. The President of the Commission is in charge of trade policy for the entire EU, as well as the enforcement of competition laws. In light of the growing powers, the heads of the main political groups in the European Parliament are seeking to give voters more power to decide who gets the mandate. In 2014, the so-called Spitzenkandidat was introduced, i.e. the leading candidate system, according to which the political group that wins the most votes in the elections to the European Parliament can propose its candidate for the President of the Commission.

The Parliament plays a pivotal role in shaping Union policies through the legislative process; although MEPs do not have the power to propose new laws, they can amend them through negotiations with the Council and the Commission.

What’s next?

Current polls indicate that there will be a shift in the European Parliament towards more traditional political options, with the European People’s Party expected to gain strength as a centre-right group. The key figures in this election process are Ursula von der Leyen in front of the European People’s Party, who is seeking re-election, and her main rival Nicolas Schmidt in front of the Party of European Socialists.

Voter turnout in European elections is generally lower than in national elections, which often raises the question of legitimacy for the EU. However, this year’s elections differ in many ways from the previous ones, because political issues and challenges are at stake, the solution of which directly depends on the future of the Union and the quality of life of all its citizens.

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