European Elections 2019: How the System Works and Why It Matters – Smart Media Magazine

European Elections 2019: How the System Works and Why It Matters


Citizens in the 28 European Union nations will go to the polls this week in an atmosphere of uncertainty — with the specter of Brexit looming over the process and a growing nationalist, euroskeptic movement drawing voter support — to cast ballots for the bloc’s only directly elected body: the European Parliament.

The European Union is complex by design, a fact that can perplex voters and vote-watchers alike, often resulting in a low turnout.

But this time is different. Nationalists have gained ground across Europe, and as they head into the elections with a newly united front, the vote is being seen as the latest test of their influence. Polls suggest that populist parties could be positioned to make big gains.

Here’s a guide to the European Parliament elections, a notoriously confusing system made even more so by changing dynamics within the bloc.

Voters will elect the 751 members of the European Parliament to five-year terms, with the number of seats for each nation determined primarily by its population.

Each country uses a slightly different process, with the uniting requirement that the number of seats won by political parties be roughly proportional to their share of the vote. Member nations must hold their elections no earlier than Thursday and no later than Sunday.

The system is relatively new — the first elections were held just 40 years ago — and it is still evolving.

Once elected, nearly all lawmakers organize into Pan-European groups — there are currently eight — along broad ideological lines. The most powerful group has long been the center-right European People’s Party, a coalition that includes Germany’s governing Christian Democrats and the Republicans, the leading opposition party in France.

The European Parliament approves or rejects legislation, establishes budgets and supervises a variety of institutions within the bloc. It also plays a crucial role in selecting the president of the European Commission; the current president, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, whose term ends later this year, has said he will not be a candidate.

But the Parliament shares decision-making power with several other bodies, including the European Commission, whose members are appointed by national governments, and the European Council, representing governments of member states.

Unsurprisingly, this makes for decision-making that is complicated at best, and made more so by being seen through different regional or ideological lenses.

“There is no single understanding of how the E.U. works,” said Katjana Gattermann, an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam who studies perceptions of the European Union. “In the 28 countries, politics are always interpreted a bit differently.”

While pro-Europe parties have long dominated the Parliament, a nationalist and populist movement gaining ground across the Continent has begun to make its mark on the European Union.

Matteo Salvini, the powerful leader of the anti-immigrant League party in Italy, announced last month the formation of a new European alliance of populist and far-right parties, providing a formidable threat to the establishment.

Nationalist parties, which at first glance seem incompatible with a transnational body, hope to change the European Union from within, said Daphne Halikiopoulou, an associate professor at the University of Reading in Britain and an expert on nationalism.

“The idea of belonging to the E.U. is at its highest support at the moment, and at the same time you see these rising nationalists,” Dr. Halikiopoulou said. “But Brexit has been a deterrent and has shown other countries that the implementation is simply not worth it.”



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