Thursday, June 13, 2024

EU Elections 2024: Will Ursula von der Leyen continue as European Commission president?

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In one of the largest democratic events, nearly 400 million citizens of the European Union are casting votes this week to elect MEPs, or members of the European Parliament.

Voters are still thinking about the battles in Gaza and Ukraine, and far-right groups are trying to expand their influence in the face of rising living expenses and farmer displeasure.

Whether European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will continue to lead the EU as its public face is one of the biggest questions.

Here is a look at the election and the biggest issues at stake:

EU Elections

Elections are held in each of the 27 EU member states in every five years.

This year marks the 10th parliamentary election since the first polls in 1979, and the first after Brexit.

The 2024 elections began on Thursday, 6 June, in the Netherlands and will go on till 9 June, Sunday, when most countries will hold their election.

Initial results will be revealed in the evening once the polling stations are closed in all member states.

The process

Direct universal suffrage is used to cast a single ballot for voting.

The size of the population determines how many representatives are elected in each nation.

Malta, Luxembourg, and Cyprus have six, whereas Germany has 96.

In 2019, 751 lawmakers were elected around Europe.

European Parliament members attend the last session before the upcoming European elections, on 25 April 2024 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. AP

The number of MEPs decreased to 705 after the United Kingdom left the EU in 2020. Some of the 73 seats that were held by British MEPs previously, were redistributed to other member states.

After the election, there will be 15 additional members of the European Parliament, bringing the tally to 720 members.

A total of 12 countries will get extra MEPs.

National political parties contest elections, but once they are elected, most of the lawmakers then join transnational political groups.

The voters

Most member states have set the minimum voting age at 18.

In 2022, Belgium passed a law lowering it to 16. Voting by 16-year-olds is also permitted in Germany, Austria, and Malta. The youngest age to vote in Greece is 17.

A minimum age is also required for candidates to stand for election — from 18 in most countries to 25 in Italy and Greece.

Voters in the European Union are set elect lawmakers for the bloc’s parliament, in a major democratic exercise that’s also likely to be overshadowed by online disinformation. AP File

Voter turnout

Elections for the European Union often don’t draw a lot of voters, but in 2019, there was an evident rise in interest.

The turnout, which had been continuously declining since 1979, when it reached 62 per cent, was eight points higher at 50.7 per cent than in 2014.

The most recent Eurobarometer report from the European Parliament indicated in April that there was a spike in interest in the impending election.

Approximately 71 per cent of Europeans said they are likely to cast a ballot.

The main issues

Concerns about defence and security are central to the interests of the public as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At the national level, the EU’s defence and security were mentioned first in nine countries.

Issues pertaining to the public health system, the economy, employment, poverty, climate change, social exclusion, and Europe’s future are also heavily discussed.

What EU lawmakers do

The European Parliament is the only EU body to be elected by Europeans. It’s a real counterpower to the powerful EU’s executive arm, the European Commission.

Although it lacks the initiative to propose laws, the parliament’s authority is growing. It is now competent on a wide range of topics, voting on laws relating to climate, banking rules, agriculture, fisheries, security or justice.

The legislature also votes on the EU budget, which is crucial to the implementation of European policies, including, for instance, aid delivered to Ukraine.

Lawmakers are also a key element of the check and balances system since they need to approve the nomination of all EU commissioners, who are the equivalent of ministers. It can also force the whole commission to resign with a vote of a two-third majority.

The current makeup of the EU Parliament

The centre-right European People’s Party is the largest political group in the European Parliament, holding 176 seats out of 705 as of the end of the most recent plenary session in April.

EPP member Von der Leyen intends to continue leading the EU’s executive arm after the election.

The second-largest group is the S&D, the political group of the centre-left Party of European Socialists, which currently holds 139 seats. The pro-business liberal and pro-European Renew group holds 102 seats ahead of an alliance made up of green and regionalist political parties that holds 72 seats.

Far-right might gain

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), two far-right political groups, may soon rise to the third and fourth ranks of the European Parliament’s political groups.

The two groups have many divergences and it’s unclear to what extent they could team up to affect the EU’s agenda, especially the EU’s efforts to support Ukraine against Russia in the war.

The EPP and S&D are expected to remain stable. Pro-business liberals and greens could both take a hit after they made big gains at the previous election.

Post-election work

Once the weight of each political force is determined, MEPs will elect their president at the first plenary session, from July 16-19. Then, most likely in September after weeks of negotiations, they will nominate the president of the European Commission, following a proposal made by the member states.

In 2019, von der Leyen won a narrow majority (383 votes in favour, 327 against, 22 abstentions) to become the first woman to head the institution. Parliamentarians will also hear from the European commissioners before approving them in a single vote.

Von der Leyen has a good chances to be appointed for another term, but she needs to secure the support of enough leaders. She has also antagonized many lawmakers by suggesting she could work with the hard right depending on the outcome of the elections.

With inputs from The Associated Press

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