By Keira Power

Even when the UK was a part of the EU there wasn’t much interest in the European Parliament, with a turnout of 37% in the last election the UK took part in in 2019. However, for the rest of Europe this is a significant election, even if the record high turnout is only 51%. This year, more so than in the past, there are fears over how prevalent the far-right coalitions might be and their effect on EU policy.

What is the European Parliament?

The European Parliament is a collection of over 700 MEPs (Members of European Parliament) voted in by the citizens of the 27 member states of the EU every 5 years. The candidates are voted on as part of political parties in their own countries but once elected tend to join what are known as transnational political groups. This is a collection of MEPs from different countries who have roughly the same ideologies working together. It would be like having our British Conservative MEPs (back before Brexit) work with the French, Spanish and Italian Conservative MEPs to deliver their, similar if not identical, core policies.

There are seven transnational groups: the EPP (centre- right), the S&D (centre-left), Renew Europe (pro-EU), the EFA /Greens (left wing but separatists), the ECR (both centre and far right), Identity and Democracy (Eurosceptics and right), and finally the NGL (definitely left). The current largest of these groups are the EPP and the S&D. To be considered a transnational group the party must have 23 MEPS, who represent at least a quarter of the Member States- so MEPs from 6 different countries. MEPs can’t belong to more than one of these groups, though really, I can’t see the NGL and ECR members getting along enough for that to happen. MEPS don’t have to belong to these groups, they can be Non- Attached Members who pick and choose who they want to vote with.

How does it work and what does it do?

Glad you asked. Once the groupings have settled the Parliament reconfigures its 20 Committees so that the 25-80 plus MEPs reflect the political makeup of the current Parliament, so that the decisions it makes are representative of not only the Parliament but also the people of the EU (as they picked the Parliament).

When it comes to what the Parliament does, the answer is a fair bit. The Parliament is one of the 3 core bits to the EU Executive. The executive is just the bit of the government that decides how to run the country on a day-to-day basis and makes policies, so our Cabinet and PM. The Parliament shares legislative power (the ability to make and change laws) with the EU Council (represents Member States’ National Governments) to shape and approve

any new legislation suggested by the Commission (proposes new laws). These laws, which encompass migration, rule of law, environment, social policy, economy, approving EU’s budget and spending, are applied to every country and citizen within the EU. Needless to say, this Parliament has a huge amount of power, more so than any national government could hope to recreate, which is why it worries me so much that Nigel Farage was once a part of it.

This Election

This year the Parliament is going to have 720 MEPs, 15 more than in 2019 thanks to the UK. Seats for each country are allocated based on size with the largest getting more (obviously) so that their larger population is properly represented. The “largest” countries in this election are Germany with the maximum of 96 MEPs, France with 81 and Italy with 76 whilst the “smallest” are Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus with the minimum of 6 MEPs each.

This year’s election also brings with it a new policy dimension for the countries- whether they want to be in the EU or not. It might not make a lot of sense for anti-EU parties, like Identity and Democracy, to actively campaign for a job in a place they don’t like, but politically it’s powerful. If you have Eurosceptic, and usually but not always, far-right parties this gives out a message to the national governments and to the EU. The Government gets the message that their people aren’t happy being in the EU and that they should do something about it- though I feel those in favour of Polexit, Frexit or even Italexit should have a long hard look at the UK before deciding if the freedom to be as hardline (alternatively read foolish) as possible on immigration is worth the economic and legislative headaches. Even Greece, who has been threatening to leave since 2012, is still in there. The EU’s message is that it has to change something within its laws to keep the right-wing parties onside, such as increasing countries’ powers over immigration control, (“taking back the borders” in Brexit speak) or increasing the amount of money sent to farmers and the richer countries.

In this election the main players, according to the polls, appears to be Identity and Democracy (including Marie Le Pen’s RN) and Germany’s AFD (who were recently kicked out of ID for being, in simplified terms, Nazis) who are expected to make sizeable gains. The ECR should get an OK number of maybe 85 seats and the EPP should remain largely untouched as the largest party. In contrast, the S&D, whilst still second, will lose seats as will Renew and the Greens, with losses up to 25 seats and a third respectively.

Offering a shred of hope is the fact that Le Pen’s “supergroup” right wing coalition is unlikely as right-wing parties generally can’t work together, just look at the last Polish election. The Non-Attached Members of Hungary’s Victor Orban’s Fidesz party are also expected to split the far-right voice by joining the ECR which, incidentally, Ursula von der Leyen of the EEP appears to be shifting towards. However, this move threatens the support of the centrist and socialist groups currently lending her their support. We shall merely have to wait until the election results are released.

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