From 22 to 25 May, voters will have the chance to influence the political course of the European Union for the next five years, at the next elections to the European Parliament.
It has been estimated that 75 per cent of national laws have their origin in decisions taken in Brussels. As the European Parliament has co-decision powers to approve European laws, the identity of the future 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) matters a great deal.
Furthermore, for the first time, voters will have a strong say in who becomes the next President of the European Commission. As a result of the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, the Heads of EU Member States – who have traditionally appointed the President of the European Commission at tense, rather opaque meetings – will have to take into account the European election results.
In an attempt to engage the citizens in European elections, the European Commission encouraged in March 2013 European political parties to nominate candidates for Commission President. The objective was for these candidates to personalise the political campaigns and display their political affiliation. Later in that year, the idea was backed by Member States.
As this point in time, all major European political families have appointed their candidates. The European Popular Party has nominated Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg whilst the European Socialists have endorsed Martin Schulz, current Parliament President. The Liberals have opted for former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt.
More importantly, the political programmes of the two largest parties have been recently approved. In its recent Congress in Dublin, the EPP passed a resolution committing itself to complete the regulation of European banks “in such way that banks fulfil their mission of financing the real economy”. The Party of European Socialists’ political manifesto approved in Rome on 1 March states that “we will further regulate the banking sector, curb financial speculation and implement adequate firewalls between commercial and investment banking”.
It is early days to predict what will happen after the elections. Of course, a lot will depend on the outcome. Currently, the race is neck-to-neck between the two main parties. According to a survey by PollWatch – an entity powered by VoteWatch Europe and Burson-Marsteller / Europe Decides – the left would have a small lead. The Socialists are credited with 209 seats and the EPP with 202.
Although the elections revolve around the choice of the Commission President, other vacancies will also be up for renewal e.g. President of the European Council, President of the European Parliament and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
So one thing is certain: despite the changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty, European citizens have months of musical chairs and intense political horse-trading ahead of them before EU policy-making can resume in earnest.
EBF contact: firstname.lastname@example.org