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European elections 2019. What is being voted on, who can vote and how to vote on 23-26 May

From 23 to 26 May voting will take place in the European Elections 2019. Who can vote, who the candidates are and how to vote to elect the 751 representatives at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Between the 23rd and 26th of May voting will take place in the European elections 2019, with voters heading to the polls in all of the countries of the European Union. The last time its citizens voted to elect the 751 members of the European Parliament (EP) was in 2014. The mandate of MEPs (members of the EP) is five years, and the first time these were elected was in 1979. Approximately 400 million people are eligible to vote for the European Parliament, which is based in the French city of Strasbourg. Two smaller branches are located in Brussels, Belgium, which is commonly thought of as the “capital of Europe” because many EU institutions are found here, as well in Luxembourg City, where administrative offices, however, are somewhat falling out of use.

Read more: 10 environmental victories you didn’t know were “Made in Europe”

Why it’s important to vote for the European Parliament

The EP is the only European institution – and the largest international assembly in the world – to be directly elected by its citizens, and for this reason it has a substantial influence on the politics of the European Commission, the so-called “government of Europe”. Bruno Marasà, director of the European Parliament’s office in Milan, Italy, iterates the importance of this electoral consultation: “These are the first European elections that are really about Europe. In the last forty years, the vote has usually been a test for individual countries, but this time the confluence of national and European dimensions, as well as the themes that have emerged over the course of the electoral campaign give the vote a distinctly continental flavour. And this is a very good thing.”

European elections 2019, when to vote and what is being voted on

The European Parliament has 751 members, although this number would have contracted to 705 if the UK had completed the process of leaving the EU – Brexit – in time. For now, however, an agreement hasn’t been reached and British citizens will still be going to the polls on Thursday the 23rd of May to elect 73 MEPs. It’s not clear, however, what their fate will be once the new deadline for Brexit, which has been set for October, comes to pass. After that date, the mandate of the UK’s MEPs could cease and their seats may remain vacant until the 2024 elections, when they’ll be redistributed among the other EU nations. Today, the country with the most MEPs is Germany, with 96 seats, while the countries with the fewest – 6 – are Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta. The number of elected members is proportional to a country’s population.

Even though in most of the 28 EU member states voting will take place on the 26th of May, there are quite a few exceptions: The Netherlands join the UK at the polls on the 23rd of May, Ireland votes on Friday the 24th, in the Czech Republic voting will take place both on Friday and Saturday (24th-25th), while in Latvia, Malta and Slovakia it will be limited to the 25th. The results of the countries voting early won’t be announced until after 22:00 GMT on the 26th of Sunday, to avoid influencing other countries.

The laws governing voting all follow the same model, a proportional one. Variations are linked to the presence or absence of an electoral threshold (at its highest in France with 5 per cent), the minimum voting age (16 in Austria and Malta) and restrictions on voting from a foreign country.

How to vote on the 26th of May

Votes are expressed by tracing an “X” on the symbol of the preferred coalition or list. This in itself is sufficient. However, in addition, one can write one, two or three names of candidates from the chosen list. Votes aren’t valid if the name(s) of candidate(s) from a different list are indicated. Invalidation also occurs if all the candidates chosen are of the same sex: they can’t be exclusively male or female. For example, if two preferences are expressed, one has to be a man and the other a woman. In choosing three candidates, at least one has to be of a different sex compared to the other two.

European parliamentary groups

Once elected, parliamentarians within the assembly aren’t divided according to their nationality, but in groups corresponding to political affiliation. A group is composed of at least 25 MEPs from seven different nations. Parties that remain outside a group are given less space during the assembly’s sessions and less access to funds. This is one of the reasons why sometimes alliances between parties are formed seemingly on the basis of seeking funds and visibility, rather than because of common goals and ideals. The largest groups, currently, are the European People’s Party (of centre-right affiliation, whose members currently hold all the main leadership positions, including the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani of Italy) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (a centre-left coalition, one of its main exponents is former EP President, Martin Schulz of Germany).

The President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in Strasbourg © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

Among the other parties are the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), which is often part of the parliamentary majority that supports the European Commission currently led by Jean-Claude Juncker. Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE leader, has anticipated that after the 2019 European elections the group will dissolve, going on to form a larger one that will also contain French MEPs belonging to President Emmanuel Macron‘s En Marche party, which will be taking part in such elections for the first time. Other noteworthy groups are the European United Left/Nordic Green Left and European Greens. The European Conservatives and Reformists and Europe of Nations and Freedom both represent eurosceptic interests.

The problem of voter turnout

The first time European elections took place, in 1979 – when there were only nine countries in the EU – 62 per cent of voters participated. In the 2014 elections, with 28 member states, turnout was much lower, with less than half of eligible voters casting their ballot: 42.6 per cent, to be exact. “The fall in participation, especially in recent years, can be traced to the economic and financial crisis that has hit the West over the past decade. No adequate responses were put in place in the wake of the crisis, ultimately causing citizens to lose faith in democracy and democratic institutions like the European Parliament,” Marasà points out.

This loss of faith is paradoxical because it is precisely in these last few years that many of the laws that directly affect European citizens are being decided in Strasbourg, rather than in national capitals: “The situation is complicated – continues Marasà – because the European Parliament is a co-legislator. The directives and regulations that members states have to apply are decided by the EP together with the European Council of Ministers. Environmental legislation, for example, has received very strong momentum in the past five years, and so has regulation on transportation, with the aim of harmonisation. In the field of culture, very important decisions have been made, also seeing as European cultural heritage is one of the Union’s pillars. Last but not least, scientific research benefits greatly from EU funds: for example, many Italian researchers claim that without European funding no research would be taking place in their country, seeing as it struggles to invest adequate resources in the field”.

This time I’m voting

To try to help everyone understand how important it is to vote and invert the negative turnout trend, the thistimeimvoting.eu campaign was launched to emphasise the fact that many of the questions closest to the hearts of many EU citizens are actually discussed and decided by the EP rather than national parliamentary bodies. Over 380,000 people across Europe have adhered to the campaign, promoting dozens of events aimed at sharing accurate and truthful information with as many people as possible.

Follow updates, results and turnout statistics on LifeGate.

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