22-25 May 2014: remember the dates!
The next European elections, which will take place in all EU member states between 22 and 25 May 2014, are expected to be the most important of their kind in recent times. Undoubtedly, they happen in a very difficult moment: Europe is struggling to keep itself together, euroscepticism is rising and unemployment is skyrocketing. But more than ever, their outcome is bound to have a lasting effect on the work of all European institutions and on the life of more than 500 million of citizens.
The article 17 (7) of the Lisbon Treaty (2009) will indeed finally come into force, strengthening the powers of the European Parliament (EP) and giving the President of the European Commission more legitimacy.
Since the implementation of direct universal suffrage in 1979, the elections of the Members of European Paliament (MEPs) have aroused less and less enthusiasm. In the last elections in 2009, the average turnout was at a record low of 43% – a figure which, however, hides huge differences between countries (19.6% in Slovakia, and 91% in Belgium, where voting is compulsory).
Moreover, because of the economic dowturn faced by the European Union (EU) and the citizens’ increasing dissatisfaction, political stakeholders are afraid that these 2014 elections might see the rise of anti-EU political groups. They consequently decided to take action to improve European elections’ visibility and to weaken criticism about the democratic deficit within the European institutions.
For this reason, it is worth to have a closer look at which practical consequences the 2014 elections will have on the EU’s functionning and at why it is important for everyone of us to vote.
What will change in 2014:
- More visibility for the European elections
In order to increase voter turnout, the elections have been moved to May 22-25 instead of June. Many Europeans take their holidays in the period of time initally foreseen, and there were great chances they would not have stayed home to go to the polls.
- Politicisation of the European Commission’s Head
During previous elections, only one candidate for the position of President of the Commission was presented to the MEPs by the European Council. As this candidate had to please both the MEPs and the Member States to be appointed, one can easily imagine how he/she was quite a consensual character.
This will dramatically change after 2014. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council will maintain its power to propose a candidate to the European Parliament. But now, it will have to take into account the results of the elections. In other words, the President of the Commission shall come from the political majority in the EP.
- Better readability for European citizens
Until now, it was quite difficult for European citizens to understand the purpose of such elections. National political parties in the opposition tended to use this opportunity to campaign against their current governments, therefore, transforming the elections into a protest vote.
In 2014, however, the affiliations between the European political groups and the national parties will be clearer. Each European political group shall indeed present one candidate for the position of President of the European Commission. This candidate will then campaign all around the 28 European Member States. The ballot paper used for the elections shall hence contain – in addition to the usual national party’s name – the candidate’s name and the affiliation to the political group in the European Parliament.
Why do 2014 European elections matter?
Today, it has become clear that a European country by its own cannot keep a strong position on the international stage. Gathering 28 members, the European Union gives all European citizens an opportunity to speak up and be heard by many. However, criticisms on the democratic deficit of the institutions, especially the European Commission, have so far been very common.
The executive body of the European Union proposes directives and regulations – meaning EU laws – to the legislative bodies, i.e. the European Council and the European Parliament, and then implements them.
This is a major responsibility!
But until now, the European Commission had no democratic legitimacy. As a consequence, it was considered as the most technocratic institutions of the EU.
Voting for the 2014 European elections comes down to acknowledging the impact of the European Union legislation on our daily life and to state that we, the European citizens, can influence its course of action!