What the European elections 2009 are all about

Six keys to understanding the stakes of the vote in June

The European elections are approaching. Less than one month before Election Day and we can’t really say that the prospect of the vote is drawing in the crowds. Participation is at half mast throughout Europe and the campaign is late in starting. Will the political parties finish by playing the European card in this campaign ? Or will the elections once again serve as a referendum on the respective national governments ? Who are these MEPs that we talk about so distantly ? And what kind of Europe do they want ? ‘The Euros’ are going to try and answer these questions, and indeed many others by 4th June. There is nothing like a small summary of the odds in June’s vote to prepare us…

The most important facts

When will the European elections take place ?

From 4th – 7th June (slightly over ¾ of the MEP’s will be elected on Sunday 7th)

How many seats will be at stake ?

736 seats for the 27 member states. If the Treaty of Lisbon comes into effect in 2010, the number of MEP’s will be carried up to 751.

How many political parties ?

There are 7 political groups in total : European People’s party (Christian democrats) and the European democrats, the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Union of Europe of the Nations, The Greens/ European Free Alliance, European United Left/Nordic Green Left Alliance, Independency/Democracy Group.

The European elections throw up several surprising contradictions :

- While the powers of the European Parliament increase according to the treaties, the rate of participation in elections is decreasing.
- In spite of the joint campaigns and the increasingly substantiated manifestos developed by the European parties, there is still no real debate throughout Europe.
- Even before the debate, the decisions seems to have already been made with regards to the future allocation of important European posts (commission, presidency of the council), so why vote ?

Actually, several important issues are at stake in the 2009 elections. For each of these, the European citizens can influence the decisions by voting :

The stakes in the campaign

1 – To reverse the trend of declining turnout

According to a recent ‘Eurobarometer’ poll, 66% of citizens will abstain from the next election. The causes of this abstention remain the same : lack of information, feeling of a weak impact of the vote on political choices. To face this, the parties and the European Parliament launched campaigns encouraging people to vote.

2 – Will the campaign take off ?

Less than one month before the elections we are still waiting. Apart from the Green New Deal proposed by the European Green party, few European parties are ready to bring forward a European debate, which would be in the same terms in all 27 member states. To interest the population, it would be a good idea that for 3 or 4 problems on a European level (new transatlantic relations, renegotiation of the Kyoto protocol, the financial and economic crisis) the European parties propose different solutions and make a campaign around these solutions by discussing it in front of the citizens, through their candidates.

Politicize the debate in the Euro-assembly

3 – Finalise the political alliances within the European parliament

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736 seats in the European Parliament are waiting to be allocated according to the votes cast between 4th and 7th June throughout Europe.

Source : PizzaDeBarr on Flickr.com

Depending on the results, we are likely to see the emergence of real political alliances (and not just a technical arrangement between 2 large groups : the European Popular Party and the European Socialist Party). These political alliances, which could consist of centre left or centre right parties, could result in a political distribution of the main posts (head of parliament) and in the transformation of the assembly into a real political arena.

4 – Distribution of power among the political groups

For the large political groups, PES and EPP, the stake is to allow internal cohesion in a large group. As such, the EPP cannot avoid an internal debate about its identity and orientation, according to the results of different member delegations. Incontestably, the leaving of the British conservatives and the arrival of the neo-fascist Italians from Alleanza Nazionale will have an impact on the political orientation of the EPP : more conservative ? More democratic Christian ? More social ? More liberal ? More pro-environment ? More agrarian ? More atlanticist ? Still federalist ?

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European elecctions are going to determine who will influence EU policies over the next five years.

Source : Chourka Glogowski on Flickr.com

For the small groups, the stake is to progress as much as possible : the liberals want to stay in the centre and stay the ‘king maker’, arbitrating between the PES and EPP…while the other groups (Green, European United Left/Nordic Green Left and a new sovereignist centre right group) will be fighting for the place of third (or even fourth) political group. Behind these stakes of power, there is the question of weighing up the European policies : more or less green ? More or less strong on the world scene ? More or less ambitious in terms of budget and of consumer protection ?

After the elections, a Commission restricted to assuring the transition ?

5 – Portfolios for those who want them

After the European elections, who will be head of parliament ? (Graham Watson [ALDE/United Kingdom] ? Jerzy Buzek [EPP/Poland] ? Mario Mauro [EPP/Italy] ?) Who will the parliament appoint as president of the Commission ? Which Commissioners will he agree to appoint ? Will the population know the candidates in advance or will it be arranged behind closed doors ?

6 – The Commission on stand-by

If the Treaty of Lisbon comes into effect in 2010, several modifications are planned : The Parliament will have more power (in terms of budget control) in relation to agricultural and commercial policies. The number of MEP’s will be increased and the Commission will have more power. Therefore, we are very likely to see the appointment of a new body put back until Autumn (after the Irish vote) …which could create problems because some current Commissioners will run for the European elections (Viviane Reding [EPP/Luxemburg], Louis Michel [ALDE/Belgium], Danuta Hübner [EPP/Poland]).

Source Logo : Chourka Glogowski on Flickr.com

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European elections 2009
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Antoine Bargas

Rédacteur en chef adjoint de la version francophone

Antoine est diplomé de Sciences Po Paris (Master Affaires Européennes) et de l’ Université Bocconi de Milan. Dans le cadre du programme Erasmus, Antoine a passé un an à étudier à l’ université d’ Uppsala, en Suède. Après plusieurs stages en France (Air (...)

On the internet

BBC News
Q&A: European elections 2009

UK Office of the European Parliament
About the European Elections
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