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  Elections to the European Parliament: major issues and challenges

Vadim Volovoj, Doctor in Political Sciences
2014 05 19

The European Parliament (EP) is one of the EU’s main institutions; however, its authority and influence both on the EU governance structure and citizen of the EU Member States is minor. The eighth elections to EP in May of this year have already revealed Europe‘s major issues and challenges faced by parliamentism in the European Union.

First of all, Europe is seriously concerned about its electorate. Usually elections to the EP take place in summer; this year elections will be held in May in order to attract more people and increase time interval between the EP elections and elections of the EU Commission president anticipated in July.  

There are several reasons of vague participation of European Union‘s population in the EP elections, and one of the main is that key decisions in the EU are made by Member States, not by the European Parliament. Besides, citizen of the EU are of the opinion that their vote will not make a difference (according to public polls initiated by the EC, even 66 percent of respondents are of the above opinion).

Another important moment is the connection of the EP election results with elections of a new EC president; this could increase the turnout in the EP elections.  

According to new rules, pan-European parties shall nominate their candidates, and then the European Parliament will approve candidate for the Presidency of the Commission. Proposals from the parties are as follows:

1) European People‘s Party: J. C. Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg;

2)Party of European Socialists: M. Schulz, current president of the European Parliament;

3) Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe: G. Verhofstadt, former Prime Minister of Belgium;

4) European Green Party: member of European Parliament J. Bové, and S. Keller (Germany);

5) Party of the European Left: A. Tsipras, leader of the Greek Radical Syriza party.

Yet, hardly the votes of European citizens will be decisive in the elections of the EC president. It is more likely that large EU Member States (first of all Germany) will determine the choice of president for the EC, or they might reach a compromise which will have to be  „pushed through“ by the EP. M. Schulz from Germany has many chances of becoming president of the EC, especially in the light of the expected victory of his party against the People‘s Party. But J. C. Juncker is also in a strong position. London is not happy about the above candidates. Thus, struggle for the post of the EC president will be intensive, but it will be among the leaders of EU Member States, not among their citizen.

The third important issue related to the  EP elections is better perspectives of radicals and eurosceptics. The reasons of their popularity are clear: the eurozone and the EU economic crisis, reluctance of local governments and European authorities to consider public issues (e.g. migration) and ambitions of the EU to interfere in Europeans’ personal life choices.  

Although the electorate of radicals and eurosceptics is rather mobilised, Brussels doesn’t seem to worry about that. J. C. Juncker is sure that radicals will receive about 25 percent of the vote. This is a substantial proportion  but radicals might not necessarily become an actual political power: discussions in the European Parliament are held among group representatives, and creating a group requires at least 25 deputies from seven countries.  Since radicals and eurosceptics didn’t manage to adjust their positions there is risk that they might disappear in the EP.  

According to the majority of analysts, elections to the EP will not bring major changes: the People‘s Party and Social Democratic Party will retain their parliamentary majority and  continue decision-making process. Just in case, these parties have the Greens and/or liberals to form a coalition. This was the reason why the EU President H. van Rompuy said that eurosceptics are supported not by ‚even‘ but ‚only‘ 25 percent of the electorate, and other voters are supporters of European integration.

Some experts are of the opinion that the peak of eurosceptics’ popularity is not on a wave anymore, since Europe has practically managed the crisis. However the issues related to migration and federalisation will not disappear, especially having in mind  Germany‘s position toward integration.

According to public polls, in Lithuania victory should be in the hands of social-democrats. Although the election to the European Parliament is not a major topic of public debate in the country, activity of citizens could be determined by the second round of presidential elections. Besides, for Lithuanian politicians European Parliament is rather a warm (profitable) place or a means to bring local problems to the European stage (as is the case with V.Tomashevski, the leader of  Polish political party in Lithuania) than an ambition to represent Lithuania‘s interests.  

European Parliament will have to fight for its powers within the European governance system. So far the EP reminds a place of discussions which has little influence on Europeans’ life rather than an effective decision-making instrument, although this shouldn‘t be the case in the united Europe.

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