What is the European parliament and do the elections matter?

As Europe prepares to go to the polls, we look at the workings of the union and where its power lies

Why do the European elections matter?

Europes twice-a-decade parliamentary elections are the second largest democratic contest in the world after Indias (which are incidentally still ongoing).

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    An estimated 374 million people are old enough to vote in European Union elections that will see MEPs elected for a five-year term. First contested in 1979, the vote is now being taken more seriously than ever before. Both pro- and anti-EU politicians see the elections as a springboard to seize control of Europes agenda. French president Emmanuel Macron has said the contest will be decisive at the most perilous moment for Europe since the second world war. Hungarys prime minister Viktor Orbn sees a chance to promote his illiberal democracy.

    Meanwhile, traditional parties have been rattled by polls showing that the centre-right and centre-left parties will lose their 40-year majority of seats. While anti-EU populists will gain seats, they are likely to fall short of seizing the commanding heights of the parliament. Some EU leaders also reject the polarising Macron v Orbn narrative of a battle for the future of Europe.

    Hungarys prime minister, Viktor Orbn, campaigning for European parliamentary elections at the town hall of Subotica on the Hungary-Serbia border. Photograph: Balazs Szecsodi/EPA

    Whatever the outcome, the European parliament will play a big role in shaping the EUs next five years, as the bloc grapples with environmental degradation, faltering economic growth, indebted banks, migration, the rise of China, an erratic US president, its own internal divisions and democratic backsliding and of course Brexit.

    What does the European parliament actually do?

    Once derided as a talking shop, the European parliament has acquired significant powers in the EU law-making process. The parliaments 751 MEPs make laws along with the 28 governments of the EU. Contrary to popular myth, the European commission the Brussels of tabloid lore does not make EU law, although it does have the right to initiate directives and regulations, a powerful way to set the agenda. The commission proposes, MEPs and the council of ministers (government members from all 28 countries) decide.

    We can say the European parliament is now at eye level with the council of ministers, says Sophia Russack, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies.

    The European parliament co-decides laws on the EU single market, farming, fisheries, energy, environment, data protection, migration and dozens of other policy areas. The parliament is excluded from some decisions: EU governments zealously guard their powers on EU tax and foreign policy.

    The EU has no lawmaking role on many issues that matter most to voters, such as health services, schools and housing.

    In areas where the parliament has no legislative power, it makes ample use of its platform. MEPs have passed 438 resolutions since 2014, from calls to curb arms sales to Saudi Arabia, to appeals to tackle racism across the continent.

    The parliament also has considerable clout in supervising the EU institutions in 1999 its actions triggered the downfall of the entire European commission over a corruption scandal involving former French prime minister dith Cresson. Laffaire Cresson was a watershed moment for the EU, showing that MEPs had real power over the EU executive.

    Former EU commissioner dith Cresson with her chief of cabinet Dov Zerah in 1999. The so-called laffaire Cresson was a watershed moment for the EU. Photograph: Thierry Charlier/AP

    Who are the main players?

    Individual MEPs gain power and influence as members of a political group large transnational blocs that unite MEPs according to political outlook. The current parliament has eight groups, spanning far-right to radical left.

    The largest group is the centre-right European Peoples party, currently led by German Christian Democrat, Manfred Weber. The second largest is the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, whose leader is German Social Democrat Udo Bullmann.


    The parliaments president is Antonio Tajani, an EPP member with a reputation for gaffes.

    Only 21 MEPs are not attached to any group. Sitting as a non-attached significantly reduces access to public funds and powerful positions, such being in charge of an EU law or a leadership role in the parliament.

    What has the European parliament done for the past five years?

    It played its part in agreeing 1,100 EU laws, such as a ban on single-use plastics, a data-protection regulation with global reach, capping the price of mobile phone calls within the EU, revamping the European border and coastguard.

    The parliament, however, rejected one big reform greater transparency about how MEPs spend their expenses.

    MEPs cannot force the agenda when EU member states are divided a fact evident in the long stalemate over EU asylum reform. Its been difficult for the EP when it is in this rather intergovernmental situation, says Sara Hagemann, an associate professor at the London School of Economics.

    She thinks the 2014-19 parliament made a mark by drawing attention to human rights issues, as well as important policy wins, such as forcing the European commission to be more open about how it runs EU trade negotiations, such as the TTIP talks with former US president Barack Obama.

    The 2014-19 parliament had more female MEPs than ever before. But there is still someway to go to a gender-equal chamber.

    men and women

    What about Brexit?

    The UK was meant to have left the EU well before these elections. With Brexit delayed until 31 October, the UK is legally bound to run elections, unless the government manages an 11th hour deal that would result in the Brexit withdrawal treaty being ratified by 22 May the day before polling day. Nobody is betting on that outcome.

    If the UK takes part in elections, the parliament will retain its current size of 751 MEPs. If the UK drops out, or leaves the EU during the 2019-24 term, the parliament will be cut to 705 members. Some of the UKs 73 seats have been reallocated to 14 countries, which are underrepresented in the parliament, including France, Italy and Spain. The remainder will be reserved for countries hoping to join the EU.


    If British MEPs are returned to the European parliament that could be good news for the Socialist group, who will be hit hard by the loss of Labour MEPs. With both the Brexit party and Ukip forecast to win seats, it is also likely to boost the parliaments anti-EU forces.

    Is the European parliament at the mercy of lobbyists?

    From stakeholder breakfasts over weak coffee and mini croissants, to walking dinners on inclusive digital futures: Brussels is a town of lobbyists.

    Blue box

    For each MEP there are nearly 10 lobbyists who have a permanent pass to the parliament. The EU estimates that 82,000 people are employed to lobby its institutions. Not all represent private interests: about a quarter work for NGOs or foundations, 40% for companies or trade associations, the rest for trade unions, professional bodies and consultancies.

    Campaigners have long complained of revolving doors between the parliament and lobbying firms, highlighting the former industry committee MEP who went to work for a big German carmaker, or an agriculture committee MEP ended up working as an agri-business consultant for a firm that lobbies for Monsanto. According to the parliaments code of conduct, ex-MEPs-turned-lobbyists are required to sign up to the EUs transparency registerand give up use of parliamentary facilities, such as the car park, libraries and the intranet.

    Lobbying has increased as the parliament has gained a bigger role. The German CDU MEP Axel Voss, lead legislator on heavily disputed proposals on copyright, recalled getting 60,000 emails in a fortnight, many through automated systems. The parliament has increasingly come into the crosshairs of intense and even misleading corporate lobbying campaigns, says Margarida Silva, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory. More MEPs are criticising corporate lobbying and its influence, she says: Slowly but surely, there is a push-back.

    Why does the European parliament sit in Brussels and Strasbourg?

    Because the French president says so. The official seat is in Strasbourg, the Rhine city that is a symbol of Franco-German postwar reconciliation. Yet MEPs spend less than four days a month at the French seat. Most would prefer the parliament to be permanently in Brussels, the headquarters of the EUs other big institutions.

    The Single Seat campaign, chaired by Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, says more than three quarters of MEPs want to abolish the travelling circus. Shuttling backwards and forwards between the two cities is estimated to cost the 180m (156m, $138m) a year and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a month.

    The cause was taken up by the head of Germanys Christian Democratic Union, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who said the parliament should stay in Brussels. Like previous calls for change, she ran into the same obstacle. The parliaments Strasbourg home is inscribed in the EU treaty and can only be changed by the unanimous agreement of all 28 member states giving France a permanent veto. Strasbourg is the capital of European democracy, it is our pride, said Nathalie Loiseau, leader of Emmanuel Macrons campaign in the European elections. Non, in other words.

    Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, chair of the CDU, want the parliament to stay in Brussels. Photograph: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

    Do people care about European elections?

    Not as much as MEPs would like. Enthusiasm has been falling ever since the first elections in 1979. Although the parliament has accumulated real power, turnout has dropped at every single election, hitting a nadir of 42.6% in 2014. Attendance varies significantly across the bloc: in 2014 it was 90% in Belgium (where voting is compulsory), but a mere 13% in Slovakia.


    Low turnout reflects general public mistrust in politics. Lack of trust in politics and lack of interest were the two biggest reasons cited by people who did not vote in 2014, according to a parliament study.

    Some political observers have suggested that increased attention to elections and the growing salience of EU issues could create the long-awaited European public sphere.

    Not everyone is convinced. There is hardly any hope for greater turnout or significant interest from the public, Russack says. She thinks some of the biggest European issues, such as migration and eurozone reform, are sources of division, rather than unifiers that might encourage people to vote.

    What happens next?

    Voting begins on 23 May with elections in the Netherlands and the UK (unless the government manages to ratify the Brexit deal see box). Most countries vote on Sunday 26 May and the results should be clear by the early hours of Monday.

    After a month of haggling and setting up new groups, the new parliament is due to start work on 2 July.

    These elections are only part of a bigger EU changeover. By the end of the year, the EU should also have new presidents to lead the European commission and European council, two appointments that will also sway how Europe works over the next five years.

    Further reading

    2019 European parliament elections will change the EUs political dynamics by Stefan Lehne and Heather Grabbe at Carnegie Europe

    The European parliaments 2014 post-election survey carried out by TNS Opinion

    The 2019 European election: how anti-Europeans plan to wreck Europe and what can be done to stop it,by Susi Dennison and Pawe Zerka at the European Council on Foreign Relations

    The European Union: how does it work,edited by Daniel Kenealy, John Peterson and Richard Corbett, published by Oxford University Press

    Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific


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