Over 413 million people from 28 European countries will be called to decide, in less than a month, the conformation that the European Parliament will take on in the next five years. The period of politic and economic crisis our continent is still facing has put at the centre of debate the role and powers of the European Union. For this reason, in each country it is expected that a response to the concrete questions for the lives of citizens will emerge from the outcome of the elections[1].

Three seem to be the underlying issues that need to be answered by the policies put in place by the Parliament that will be elected. They are: maintenance or removal of austerity policies, whether to advance, and in the event in which direction, the economic and political integration, the principles on which the European Union should be based. Halfway between the second and third of these issues, the European Union cannot further delay the programming of a common foreign policy, not in name but in fact, and an effective migration policy. The current Parliament, whose majority is represented by members of the People’s Party, is accused, probably rightly, to have no enough power. Will be able, the one elected after May 25, to give greater voice to the citizens?

The elections are based on a proportional representation system and “most of the Member States function as single constituencies. However, four Member States (France, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom) have divided their national territory into a number of regional constituencies”[2].

As stated in Article 17, paragraph 7 of the Treaty on European Union, this time the elections for the European Parliament introduce a novelty, that is, the possibility that they may return automatically the name of the President of the European Commission, the leader of the coalition with the majority of the seats won at the polls. If the new President of the Commission was indeed chosen by voters – albeit indirectly – this would give more democratic legitimacy to the European Executive, which in recent years has had a backseat role compared to that of the Council[3]. But this perspective is crippled by the possibility that no party receives an absolute majority of seats. The Treaty itself, with the words “taking into account”, would indicate that this is not a real automation, but that the outcome of the elections is one of the element “to be taken into account”, indeed.

Anyway, European voters will have the chance to choose between eight candidates to replace José Manuel Barroso. The favorites are Martin Schulz, the current President of the European Parliament, for the Party of European Socialists (or Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats)and Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and former President of the Eurogroup, for the European People’s Party. They are the official candidates of the most represented groups in the current Parliament and the coalitions built by the biggest centre-left (Schulz) and centre-right parties (Juncker) in all 28 EU countries.

Other candidates are the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt for ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group), Alexis Tsipras for the Party of the European Left, Ska Keller and José Bové for The Greens-European Free Alliance. Three alliances, European Conservative and Reformists, Europe of Freedom and Democracies (whose most representative member is the UK Independence Party) and the European Alliance for Freedom (with French Front National and Italian Northern League) did not expressed candidates to replace Mr. Barroso.

Consequently the introduction of the candidates for the presidency of the Commission, in this election there will also be the debut of the TV debate between them. On 15 May the European Broadcasting Union[4] “will hold a live debate between the official candidates in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Brussels”[5].

The latest poll realized by PollWatch2014[6] on 23 April, assumes a scenario in which the European People’s Party still holds the relative majority (217) of the seats up for grabs (751) by winning in Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Cyprus, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Ireland and Hungary. Socialists and Democrats follow with 208 hypothetical seats by winning in Italy, UK, Portugal, Sweden, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. Until now, countries like Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Bulgaria, Latvia and Czech Republic are considered ‘too close to call’. Situation seems quite clear in Finland, where a Eurosceptic political force leads the polls, in Belgium where the Greens are in a distinct advantage over Socialists, in Greece, with the polls led by Tsipras and in Estonia and Netherlands with the polls led by ALDE.

The question that many ask themselves, especially those who do not intend to go to the polls[7], is: “will be sufficient to change the majority in the European Parliament to change course to the policies of the European Union?”. In very recent times awareness that certain policies have been harmful has been growing, but awareness may not be enough to reverse course. And the basic question whether the response will be common and  shared, or if any country decides to go his own way, still stands.

 


[1] Open Society Foundations (2014), “Why the European Parliament Elections Matter?”, January, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/explainers/why-european-parliament-elections-matter.

[2] The European Parliament: Electoral Procedures, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ftu/pdf/en/FTU_1.3.4.pdf.

[3] P. Fornara (2014), “Un presidente per l’Europa: per la prima volta lo sceglieranno (forse) gli elettori il 25 maggio”, Il Sole 24 ore, 13th April, http://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/notizie/2014-04-13/un-presidente-l-europa-la-prima-volta-sceglieranno-forse-elettori-25-maggio-154613.shtml?uuid=ABxVPfAB.

[4] Not related to the European Union. It operates in 80 countries.

[5] H. Mahony (2014), “EU top candidates to slug it out in TV debate”, EU observer, 17th March, http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/123497

[7] About 40% of entitled to vote for PollWatch2014.