Who, when and how Europeans are voting: Keys to the most important elections in EU history

The voting taking place in 27 member states from June 6 to 9 will be decisive for the future of the European project at a turbulent time in history

Dilan Yesilgoz
Voting center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, this Thursday.Ramon van Flymen (EFE)

Between June 6 and 9, more than 360 million European citizens are being called to elect the 720 men and women who for the next five years will make up the European Parliament, a body presented as the only multinational parliamentary assembly in the world elected by direct suffrage. This year’s will be the 10th time that voters elect the most democratic branch of the EU’s institutions, a practice that began in 1979. The DNA of the bloc is undergoing a transformation process as a reflection of the geopolitical challenges of the world, with enormous external challenges —such as Russia’s war against Ukraine— and internal —such as the predicted rise of political groups with Eurosceptic overtones that are promising to walk back the current model. In the middle of this difficult situation, the EU has made a great effort to encourage voting and achieve high turnout. The challenge is to maintain or exceed the 50.6% rate registered in 2019, the highest since 1994.

When do Europeans vote?

It depends on each member state. The vast majority of countries vote on Sunday, June 9, but since organizing the elections is the responsibility of each country, there are some in which voting takes place on other days. In Italy, for example, voting takes place over two days, June 8 and 9; the Czech Republic does so on June 7 and 8. The Netherlands went to the polls on Thursday, June 6. Ireland is voting on Friday, while Latvia, Malta and Slovakia will vote on Saturday.

What is being voted on between June 6 and 9?

The 720 MEPs from the 27 member states that make up the European Union are being elected. The first elections were held in 1979 and, over time and through different treaties, the European Parliament has gained powers.

Who can vote?

Unlike national elections, in the European elections in several countries the voting age has been lowered: in Germany, Austria, Belgium and Malta, 16-year-olds will now be able to go to the polls on this occasion, while 17-year-olds may do so in Greece. In the rest of the member states, the minimum voting age is 18. Citizens of one European country residing in another can choose whether to vote for the list of their country of origin or that of their place of residence, although they cannot do so in both.

Is the European Commission being elected?

No. The person who will preside over the European Commission is chosen by the heads of State and Government, taking into account the electoral result. However, the European Parliament can veto the appointment, since the chosen candidate must be subject to ratification by MEPs. Nor are the members of the College of Commissioners directly elected. These are designated by each government. However, it is once again up to the European Parliament to grant the required confidence vote. The European Parliament’s tasks also include approving the EU budget and monitoring how money is spent.

Do all countries have the same number of MEPs?

No. The EU’s largest country, Germany, will elect 96 representatives; the smallest (Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta), six. The distribution is calculated based on the population. However, there are corrections to this basic criterion, since strictly speaking the smallest members would have very little representation. Thus, depending on the population of each country, on January 1 of this year, there was one German MEP for almost 900,000 citizens. Malta, on the other hand, had one for every 90,000.

These numbers cannot be extrapolated to how many votes a party must get to have a representative, since these figures include citizens without the right to vote (minors). This will depend on the turnout and will be significantly lower.

Who are the main candidates?

The best-known face of these elections is, without a doubt, the current president of the European Commission, the German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen. But neither she nor the socialist leader, Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit, or Austria’s leftist Walter Baier, are eligible to be MEPs. They are instead the candidates of their political families to preside over the next College of Commissioners, but they are not running for election directly.

How many political parties are there in the European Parliament?

It will not be easy to answer this question until the elections are held. Right now there are 217 parties that are grouped into seven political families. Each country sends delegations with several parties.

How many political groups are there?

This figure is much more stable. Since 2004, the different European families have been organized into seven political groups in the European Parliament. In the last one, from highest to lowest, they have been: the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the liberals of Renew Europe, the Greens/European Free Alliance, Identity and Democracy (ID), the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and The Left. There is also a group of non-aligned members that includes, among others, the parliamentarians of Fidesz, the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who were expelled from the EPP.

What do the polls say?

All known polls agree that the winner will be the European People’s Party, with a result very similar to what it achieved in 2019 (178 seats) or even a slight improvement, explained by the increase in the number of MEPs that will be in the chamber, which is going from 705 to 720 seats. The Socialists and Democrats are also expected to achieve a similar number of representatives as they did five years ago, although in this case there is a small decrease, from 140 to 138. But this does not mean that they will constitute the second largest group in the EU Parliament. That will depend on the result of the far-right groups, now split into two. If the rise of the two groups (Identity and Democracy, and European Conservatives and Reformists) is confirmed and they join forces, as the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has proposed, that second place could correspond to them.

The sharpest declines are expected among the liberal ranks and among the greens. For the most leftist group in the chamber (The Left), the polls point to a small advance over the 2019 results.

When will the results be known?

Although the votes begin on June 6, it will not be until the night of June 9 when the estimates and projections begin to be made. The European Parliament plans a first set of estimates by country on Sunday evening. On Monday the 10th, all the provisional results should be known.

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