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Centre holds, far-right makes gains in EU elections: How does voting work?

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A woman casts her ballot for the European elections in a polling station in Frankfurt, Germany, 9 June, 2024. AP

Far-right parties disrupted the traditional power dynamics in the European Union, achieving significant gains on Sunday in its parliamentary elections. The four-day (6 June to 9 June) voting process across the 27 EU countries was the world’s second-largest democratic exercise, following
India’s recent general election
.

Despite these gains, the two primary pro-European groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, continued to hold the majority. The rise of the far right came at the expense of the Greens.

These elections came during a challenging period for voter confidence in the 450-million-strong bloc. Over the past five years, the EU has faced the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn, and an energy crisis driven by the most significant land conflict in Europe since World War II.

What does the European Parliament do?

The European Parliament is one of the EU’s three core institutions, alongside the Council, which represents the national governments of member states, and the Commission, the executive branch that proposes and implements EU laws and manages the bloc’s daily operations.

Through the “co-decision procedure,” the Parliament shares legislative power with the Council, shaping and, if in agreement, approving new regulations and directives proposed by the Commission.

People vote in European and local elections in Baleni, Romania, 9 June, 2024. AP

The Parliament represents the interests of EU citizens at the European level, adopting laws that impact countries, companies, and individuals across various areas, including migration, the rule of law, social policy, the environment, security, consumer rights, and the economy.

Additionally, the Parliament plays a significant role in defining the EU’s financial priorities. It approves the EU’s multi-annual budget, scrutinises how the funds are spent, and influences the bloc’s executive by electing the Commission President and approving the College of Commissioners.

The European Commission acts as the EU’s executive branch, responsible for proposing and implementing EU laws and managing the daily operations of the EU. The European Parliament, representing EU citizens, and the Council, representing the member countries, collaborate to shape and adopt the Commission’s proposals when they reach an agreement.

How does it work?

Members of European Parliament (MEPs) are elected for a five-year term, as members of national parties but generally join like-minded transnational political groups once they are in parliament. There are seven such groups, with most national parties affiliated with one of them.

A voter, dressed in traditional Black Forest attire. with red Bollenhut hat, casts her ballot for the European Parliament elections at the polling station in Gutach im Breisgau, Germany, 9 June, 2024. AP

A group must have at least 23 members representing at least a quarter of the EU’s member states. The two largest groups are the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

Parliament operates through 20 specialised committees, each with 25 to over 80 MEPs, focusing on areas such as transport or defence. The membership and chairmanship of each committee should reflect the political composition of the entire parliament.

How are the elections organised?

Member states have the flexibility to organise elections as they see fit, provided they occur within the same four-day period and the number of MEPs elected from each national party is proportional to the number of votes received.

EU citizens residing in another member country can vote and stand for election there as long as they are registered. Many EU citizens living in non-member countries, including the UK, can also vote.

EU citizens aged 18 and above are eligible to vote. In some countries, the voting age is lower, for example, it is 16 in Belgium, Germany, Malta and Austria. In Greece people who turn 17 during the election year can vote, and in Hungary married individuals can vote regardless of age.

People cheer at the first exit poll at the Socialist People’s Party for the election to the European Parliament at Christiansborg in Copenhagen, 9 June, 2024. AP

Different methods are used, including in-person voting at polling stations, postal voting, and, in some countries, electronic voting.

The upcoming parliament will have 720 MEPs, 15 more than in 2019. The number of MEPs from each member state is agreed upon beforehand and is based on the principle that MEPs from larger countries represent more people than those from smaller countries.

Also Read:
What the surge of far-right means for Europe

The minimum number of MEPs from any country is six, and the maximum is 96. In the next parliament, the three largest cohorts will be Germany with 96 MEPs, France with 81, and Italy with 76; the smallest will be Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Malta, each with six.

The MEPs then elect their president for a term of two and a half years. The outgoing president is Malta’s Roberta Metsola.

Which are the political groups in the European Parliament?

The European Parliament currently recognises seven major political groupings, each representing a spectrum of political ideologies and national parties from across the EU. These groups work together on common legislative agendas and policies. As of the most recent parliamentary term, the seven main political groupings are:

  1. European People’s Party (EPP): Centre-right, Christian democracy, pro-European integration.

  2. Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D): Centre-left, social democracy, pro-European integration.

  3. Renew Europe (RE): Centrist, liberal, pro-European integration.

  4. Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA): Green politics, regionalism, pro-European integration.

  5. Identity and Democracy (ID): Right-wing to far-right, Euroscepticism, nationalism.

  6. European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR): Centre-right to right-wing, Euroscepticism, conservatism.

  7. The Left in the European Parliament – GUE/NGL: Left-wing, socialism, communism, Euroscepticism.

MEPs who are not members of any group are referred to as non-inscrits. These MEPs, who do not align with any political group, range from Hungary’s nationalist Fidesz members to a few separatists from Spain’s Catalonia region.

Who will be the next EU Commission chief?

The new MEPs will soon undertake the important task of electing the president of the European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen, the current president, is seeking re-election.

The European Council, consisting of the EU’s 27 heads of state or government, will consider the election results and nominate a candidate, whose name will be presented to the Parliament. The candidate will need approval from more than 50 per cent of MEPs.

Lead candidate for the European Commission, current European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during an event at the European People’s Party headquarters in Brussels, 9 June, 2024. AP

In the EU, political groupings may adopt a system of “lead candidates,” known as the Spitzenkandidat process in German, as they did in 2014. Under this principle, each group nominates a presidential candidate before the elections, and the group with the most seats is then mandated to select the European Commission president.

However, five years ago, the EU’s national leaders chose Von der Leyen as president, even though she was not a candidate. They may decide to bypass the Spitzenkandidat process once again this time.

With inputs from agencies

Anmol is a Senior Sub-Editor with Firstpost. He likes to cover stories that amuse him, generally revolving around international polity, Indian foreign policy, human interest, environment and even the politically-charged election cycles in India. He has far too many disparate interests with a constant itch for travel. Having visited fourteen states in the Indian subcontinent, he is always on the lookout for opportunities to add more to the list. He enjoys watching Football, Tennis and F1 purely as a sports enthusiast. see more

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