The 2014 European elections are almost here. Being the second biggest democratic exercise in the world, 400 million people can vote for a new European Parliament. By electing 715 Members of the EP to represent their interests in the next five years, voters are given the chance to influence the future of the European Union’s politics. After the elections of 22-25 May, the MEPs will take up their seats in July, not only to set the course of European policies for the next five years, but also to elect the President of the European Commission.
General and basic facts:
This event is very unique in global terms since 400 million voters from 28 countries choose representatives for one assembly. The voting will take place in different countries on different days, but people will still vote for national parties and candidates.
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.
At the same time, however, voter participation is expected to further decrease, following the trend of the last elections. The turnout has declined from 1979’s 63% to only 43% in 2009 even though the European Commission has more say on national budgets and new legislative powers from successive treaty changes has been accrued by the parliament.
Date of the elections around Europe:
The voting age in most of the member states is 18, except for Austria(16). MEP candidates in all but two countries must also be at least 18. But in Cyprus and Italy the minimum age is 25.
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. The groups are meant to unite like-minded politicians, but based on the regulation in the EP 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.
Why do these elections make a difference?
The European elections in May will allow voters to contribute to strengthening or changing the direction that Europe takes in tackling the economic crisis and in many other issues affecting people’s daily lives. The increase in the European Parliament’s powers since 2009 has started to make itself felt as the European Union sought to pull through the economic crisis and MEPs drew up legislation, inter alia on effective budgetary discipline, the winding down of failing banks and caps on bankers’ bonuses.
For the first time, the new European Parliament’ composition will determine who will be the leader of the EU’s executive body -that supervises implementation of the legislation- , the next European Commission. According to the new rules, EU government leaders, who will propose a candidate for the post of the future Commission President, must do so on the basis of the election results.
The new Commission President will be elected by the European Parliament, by a majority of the members, at least 376, half of the 751 MEPs have to vote. Political parties from Europe have already put their candidates forward for the leading position in the EU prior to the European elections to give an opportunity to the citizens to have a say over the Commission’s next president.
The following European political parties have designated candidates for the presidency in the Commission ahead of the 2014 election:
- European People’s Party: The European People’s Party (EPP) brings together the bloc’s moderate conservatives and Christian democrats. The EPP is the most likely party to win the elections once again, albeit with a diminished number of seats. On 6 and 7 March 2014 the European People’s Party held an extraordinary Congress in Dublin, selecting the party’s candidate for Commission president and vote on the election manifesto. In Dublin Jean-Claude Juncker was elected as the candidate of his party to become the President of the European Commission after the European parliamentary elections.
- The PES/S&D Congress gathering in Brussels in November 2011 made the decision that it would select the PES/S&D candidate through internal primaries in each of its member parties and organisations. Martin Schulz, who is a German politician, the President of the European Parliament and the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democratists in the European Parliament was nominated as their candidate for the position of European Commission President on behalf of the Party of European Socialists.
- Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE): The ALDE Party consists of 57 member parties from across Europe. Liberal Democrats created their European political family in 1976 in view of the first European elections and in 1993 was established as a true transnational political party. Formerly the European Liberal Democrat and Reform (ELDR) party, on 10 November 2012 at the Congress in Dublin, European Liberal Democrat delegates voted overwhelmingly to change the name of the party to Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE) Party to strengthen links with the European Parliamentary group. In the 2014 European Parliament election the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party’s nominee for President of the European Commission is Guy Verhofstadt He was the Prime Minister of Belgium from 1998 to 2008. Since 2009 he is the leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
- The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) is the political group in the European Parliament containing green andregionalist political parties. The Greens/EFA group consists of two distinct European political parties – the European Green Party (EGP) and the European Free Alliance (EFA). The EFA consists of parties representing, stateless nations, regionalist and minority political interests. In the 2014 European Parliament election the Green’s nominee for President of the European Commission is Ska Keller. She is a German politician and Member of the European Parliament for the Alliance ’90/The Greens.
- The European Left which holds just 35 seats, or 4.5 per cent of the vote in the European Parliament, also announced its candidate for the prestigious position of the President of the European Commission. They nominated Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing Greek party SYRIZA.
The first European Presidental Debate
The first ever European Presidential Debate took place in Maastricht on 28 April, with four of the leading candidates for presidental position of the European Commission presenting their vision for European policy. For the first time in Europe’s history, the EC President will be elected by the Members of the European Parliament.
With a prominent use of social media, and a focus on Twitter’s live feed and hashtag tools, the debate setup was clearly aiming to engage young voters, both by inviting an audience of students to provide questions for the debate and also by monitoring questions and feedback sent online in real time. #EUdebate2014, received tweets at a rate of 10,000 per minute during the event and was open to receiving questions for weeks in advance.
This event was more than a conventional political debate. This event was an indicator, because if you read between the lines, and you try to focus on the substance of the thoughts and responses, you can recognize what are the most prominent and significant topics of today’s European Union.
The debate consisted of three half-hour rounds of questions on the themes of (1) Economy, (2) Euroscepticism and (3) Foreign Policy. Thus, in the light of the previous ideas these three main topics are the most controversial. If we examine the processes and trends in the light of the past few years there is no surprise here. It is obvious that the economic crisis has deeply influenced the whole integration process. Crisis management has been arguable and there are very accentual differences regarding the future of deepening cooperation all over Europe. In parallel with this fact, the spread of euroscepticism has become one of today’s most crucial problems. The Common Foreign and Security Policy’s work’s efficiency and its results are also very questionable.
One of the debate’s key questions was unemployment and – in connection with that- the creation of new working opportunities. Beside, the issues of taxes, tax systems and regulations of the internal market have been discussed. Furthermore, the debate also focused on Ukraine’s current situation, on its economic agreements with the USA and the debate also dealt with the Immigration Policy.
When the topic of migration was brought up, the lack of a consistent policy was a challenge agreed upon by all four candidates. Ska Keller called for the adoption of a humanistic approach that understands the reasons for migration and acknowledges the urgency of requesting political asylum, without refusing entry solely based on numbers. On the opposite front, Juncker adopted a more conservative approach, stating that “we cannot accept all the misery of the world on our territories.”
Regarding the Ukrainian crisis, Martin Schultz stated that the question is not whether Ukraine will join the EU within the next five years – that scenario is clearly not possible – but whether the EU will manage to support the country in remaining united. In his response, Guy Verhofstadt supported the sanctions imposed by the EU, which he said have caused a change of attitude among the Ukrainians, and he expressed the view that the sanctions had not been imposed early enough. Unlike the US, he said, “We don’t have the guts to tackle the Russian oligarchs.”
The candidates concluded the debate by explaining why voters should support them. Juncker spoke about bridging the gap between the north and the south of the continent, Schultz referred to a Europe with just and fair institutions, Verhofstadt committed himself to promoting gender equality, and lastly Keller called for a “Europe that cares about the people”..
The „main” European Presidental Debate
Seven days before the start of the European Elections, the candidates running for the presidency of the European Commission confronted each other in another debate again.
The live TV debate, held in Brussels in the European Parliament on Thursday 15th May, proved to be the largest of a series of three debates, shown across Europe in 24 languages and on 49 TV channels. A total of 63,000 Tweets were sent out during the 90 minutes of debate, exceeding the 47,000 sent during the first televised debate in Maastricht.
The candidates again focused on the leading issues of the EU debt crisis, immigration, the Ukraine crisis, Brussels lobbying, youth unemployment and religion. For the first time, Alexis Tsipras, Greek far-left candidate for the GUE group, participated in the debate and, therefore, burst the “EU bubble” style that characterized the previous debates.
However, Tsipras focused almost exclusively on Greece and his own Syriza party. In spite of the hope that Tsipras would provide constructive criticism about the future of the EU, he accused Jean-Claude Juncker, former head of the eurogroup of conspiring behind closed doors with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to “remove democratically elected leaders in Greece and Italy and replace them with bankers and bureaucrats”.
Tsipras also criticized Juncker’s austerity policy, to which the latter rebuked: “For years I worked day and night to avoid Greece falling out of the euro […] we did everything to ensure that Greece stayed in.” Guy Verhofstadt, candidate for the liberal group ALDE, said: “In Greece, in Italy, it wasn’t a matter of banking, but bad policies on the part of your political parties”.
Martin Schulz, centre-left candidate for the S&D group, promised to focus on “fighting against tax fraud and tax evasion and for equal life chances” and laid out plans for a microcredit program to support SMEs and grow Europe’s economy.
Ska Keller, the German candidate for the Green party, claimed interest groups and business have too much power over lawmakers and that the EU needs “a Europe of citizens”. She pleaded for more investment in a greener and more sustainable economy.
What happens after the elections?
After receiving the official result, the competent national authorities will announce the elected European Parliament’s members’ names. After verification of their credentials by the Parliament administration, the 751 newly-elected MEPs can take up their seats at the opening of the first session, 1 July 2014.