EM Explainer on EU elections

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EM Explainer on EU elections
Voting for the next MEPs

  Shilpa Joseph and Ken Varghese

By Shilpa Joseph and Ken Varghese

On 06 June, the EU elections began from Netherlands with 60 per cent out of 358 million eligible voters across the EU to cast vote. In total, 16,345 candidates from 27 member states are competing for 720 seats in the European Parliament. According to the report in Politico, average turnout for 2019 elections was 50. 7 per cent whereas 60 per cent are expected to vote for 2024. Maximum number of seats in the parliament is presently held by Germany with 96 seats, France with 81 seats and Italy with 76 seats. Several EU states hold 21 seats on an average while Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus have the least of six seats. Out of the major coalition groups contesting in the elections, the traditional Centre-Right European People's Party (EPP) and Centre-Left Progressive Alliance of Socialists And Democrats (S&D) are expected to lead with majority. While the Far-right wing and Far-Right parties are expected to form a new coalition group but critics predict a not so divisive victory.

What makes the EU?
The EU is an economic and political supranational union of 27 European states established in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty between the member states of the earlier European Economic Community (EEC). The EU is led by four main decision-making institutions: the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of the EU, and the European Commission. Other institutions include the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank, and the European Court of Auditors. These institutions provide policy direction and play various roles in the law-making process. The EU’s Parliament and Council enact new laws that the Commission proposes. The laws are then enunciated by the member states, and the Commission ensures the implementation.

What is the election for?
The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the EU which performs legislative, supervisory, and budgetary responsibilities. According to the principle of degressive proportionality, each member state is allocated seats in the parliament based on the size of the population of member states as well as the need for a minimum level of representation for European citizens from smaller countries. The EU treaty requires a country to have six to 96 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) and the total number cannot exceed 750, including the President in the Parliament. Due to changes in the EU's population since the 2019 elections, the number of seats were raised from 705 to 720 for 2024 elections. Since 1979, the MEPs are elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year period, in the individual countries. While each country can conduct the elections in any desirable form, it must guarantee equality of the sexes and a secret ballot. Post elections, the President and Vice-Presidents of the Parliament are chosen to serve a two-and-a-half-year renewable term. The President is elected through nominations, which can be submitted before each ballot round with the nominees' consent. Candidates can be proposed by a political group or by a group of members at least reaching the low threshold of one-twentieth of Parliament's Members.

Council of Europe and European Commission: How are the members?
The European Council represents the highest level of political cooperation by bringing together EU leaders to set the EU's political agenda by organising quarterly summit meetings, chaired by a President. Composed of the heads of state or government of all EU countries, the European Council President, and the European Commission President, the European Council decides on the EU's overall direction and political priorities – but does not pass laws. According to article 15 of the Treaty of EU, the Council elects its own President for a term of two-and-half years and can be re-elected once.

The EU’s politically independent executive arm is the European Commission. It comprises of a College of Commissioners with one from each EU country, promotes the general interest of the EU by proposing and enforcing legislation as well as by implementing policies and the EU budget. The College of Commissioners comprises the President, eight Vice-Presidents, three Executive Vice-Presidents, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and 18 Commissioners each with a portfolio. The leaders of the member states name a nominee for the post, who must gather support of a majority of members of the European Parliament. The election of the president of the commission is based on a system of spitzenkandidatens, which means ‘lead candidate’ in German. It refers to the candidate, each political party chooses to be the face of their party. The EU treaty states that, taking into account the parliamentary elections and after appropriate consultation, the council elects a candidate who is then put to MEP’s in the Parliament for a vote. The party winning the majority seats, will find their spitzenkandidatens, to become the Commission President, only after the nominee is approved with majority votes in the European Parliament. If the candidate does not obtain the required majority, the European Council proposes a new candidate within one month, to be elected by the same procedure.

What is the role of member states?
The Member States are a crucial part of the EU, which has grown from six to 27 member-states. EU members share governance in terms of economic, social and security policy domains. The EU is a transnational organisation which has a unique feature that allows the member states to remain independent and sovereign but at the same time surrender some of their sovereign rights to obtain a common goal. Thereby making decisions more democratically. Many institutions are part of the EU such as the European Council, European Commission, and European Parliament. These institutions are in charge of deciding and implementing the rules, while the Parliament members make the main decisions. The members of the European Parliament are directly elected by the European citizens which play a critical role in the legislative process, along with the Council of Europe and the European Commission. The parliament of the member states also take part in the process and ensures their actions align with the EU. It’s creation of the single largest transnational market has allowed free movement in terms of economic and trade aspects within the member state. This has allowed the member state to officially adopt the Euro as their official currency making it a multinational currency which can be used in 19 countries. In security and foreign policy, the EU has become unified to act as a single body to discuss and address global affairs, this allows the diplomates to work closely with the state members and the international players. The EU operates as a democratic form, where the citizens directly elect the members to represent them in the EU. To become a member of the EU the country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, which includes the government accepting the EU regulations. These are the main roles that the EU member states play for a stable EU governance.

About the Author

Shilpa Joseph is currently an Research Intern at NIAS, Bangalore. She is a Postgraduate scholar at Department of International Relations, Loyola College, Chennai. Her areas of interest include climate change, renewable energy, and European domestic politics.
Ken B Varghese is currently an Research Intern at NIAS, Bangalore. He is a graduate in Political Science from Madras Christian College. His interest includes economics, trade relations, security issues in the Indo Pacific and the Arctic.

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