Thursday

26th May 2016

Focus

Guide to the 2014 European Elections

The next European Parliament election, the eighth one since direct voting began in 1979, will take place from 22-25 May.

It is a unique event in global terms, in which 400 million eligible voters out of a population of 500 million across 28 countries choose representatives for one joint assembly.

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  • Turnout for the European Parliament elections has been on a downward slide since 1979 (Photo: Joel Williams)

The election is pan-European by nature, but people will still vote for national parties and candidates, while voting takes place on different days in different countries.

It will be more keenly watched than ever before: It is the first pan-EU poll since the eurozone debt crisis, which brought the currency union, not to mention several countries’ treasuries, to the brink of collapse.

But at the same time turnout is on a downward slide. While the parliament has accrued new legislative powers from successive treaty changes, and while the European Commission has more say than ever on national budgets, turnout has steadily declined from 63 percent in 1979 to just 43 percent in 2009.

Here is a simple guide to the elections - who votes when; who is running; and, most importantly, when the results will be clear.

How do the parliament elections affect the European Commission?

As a result of provisions in the Lisbon treaty, the outcome of the EU vote has a greater bearing on the next President of the commission.

The EU's 28 government leaders will be tasked with proposing the new head of the EU executive, but must take account of the results of the European Parliament elections.

Many MEPs want this to mean that the commission president candidate of the most popular political party should automatically get the post.

The Socialists, the Liberals, the Greens, and the Left have formally nominated candidates. The centre-right - currently the largest faction in the parliament - is expected to do so in March.

When do I get to vote?

Most European voters - just over three quarters - will head to the ballot box on Sunday, 25 May, while the rest of Europe votes in a staggered process over the previous three days.

The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are the sole countries to vote on 22 May.

The Czech Republic and Ireland are the only countries to vote on 23 May, with Czech voters also able to cast their ballot on 24 May.

Voting in Italy, Malta, Slovakia, and Lithuania takes place on 24 May, and on 25 May in Cyprus.

How old do I have to be?

Voting age is 18 in all EU countries except Austria, where it is 16.

MEP candidates in all but two countries must also be at least 18. But in Cyprus and Italy the minimum age is 25.

At 26, Swedish Pirate party deputy, Amelia Andersdotter, is currently the youngest MEP, while 85-year-old French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is the oldest.

How long are MEPs in office?

Members of the European Parliament are elected for five-year terms.

They take up office in July this year and stay in place until July 2019.

Is anyone planning to move from the commission to the parliament?

Although most party lists are still to be decided, three sitting commissioners have already stated their intentions to make the short walk from the EU executive's Berlaymont headquarters in Brussels to the parliament.

French single market commissioner Michel Barnier will stand on the ticket of the centre-right Union Mouvement Populaire. Justice commissioner Viviane Reding will run for Luxembourg's Christian Social People's Party, while economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn is expected to be on the election slate of the Finnish centre party.

What are people voting for?

There are seven main groups in the EU parliament, each of which is linked to a pan-European political party.

Candidates still run under national political colours, however. The groups are then formally agreed when MEPs convene in Strasbourg in July.

The groups are meant to unite like-minded politicians. But parliament rules mean bigger groups get more money and more committee chairmanships, as well as more sway in deciding legislation, meaning that people with differing views still flock together.

A minimum of 25 MEPs from at least seven EU countries are needed to form a group.

The two largest ones are likely to remain the same.

The European People's Party (EPP) brings together the bloc's moderate conservatives and Christian democrats. The EPP are favourites to win the elections once again, albeit with a diminished number of seats.

Elsewhere on the right, the European Conservative and Reformists group (ECR) was created following the 2009 elections. They will be hoping to add delegations from new EU countries to complement a group currently dominated by the British Conservatives, the Polish Law and Justice party, and the Czech Civic Democrats.

Europe's political centre ground is represented by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Alde). However, with two of the group's largest delegations in the outgoing parliament, the UK’s Liberal Democrats and the German Free Democrats, expected to incur substantial losses, the Alde group, frequently a “kingmaker” in the past two legislatures, could see its importance diminish.

The Party of European Socialists represents Europe's centre-left. Their group in parliament is now referred to as the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). After taking a beating in 2009 and being reduced to 185 seats - its worst performance since direct elections were introduced - the S&D group has a lot of ground to make up if it is to overtake the EPP.

The European Greens are a more coherent bunch, although they hew more to the centre in Germany and the Czech Republic, while their colleagues from the UK and Scandinavia consider themselves to be more a part of the self-styled "alterglobalisation" movement.

To the left of the Socialists, the United European Left/Nordic Green Left is the far-left group in the parliament.

But it is the eurosceptic and right-wing parties which are expected to cause a political earthquake.

Around 50 MEPs currently sit either in the Ukip/Lega Nord-led Europe for Freedom and Democracy group, or as “non-attached” members.

The question is how much their numbers will swell and whether personalities as different as France's Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands' Geert Wilders will be able to bring them together into a united front.

When do we find out the results?

Despite the four-day voting period, the full results will be released only after the final polling station has closed - at 10pm Brussels' time on Sunday 25 May.

Results from all 28 member states will be made available as they arrive after this time. The British, Cypriot, Czech, Dutch, Irish, Lithuanian, and Slovak outcomes should appear first.

When sufficient returns can begin to suggest the likely make up of the house, the parliament's press service will provide a prognosis of how the results will change the landscape of the assembly.

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