A Guide on the European Parliament & Elections

| Leiden International Centre

In about 2 months, more than 100 million people will be able to cast their vote for the European Parliament elections. Whether you're a citizen of the EU or not, it's important to stay informed about these developments since they can change your environment significantly. For that reason, the article will guide you through everything you need to know about the European Parliament and the upcoming elections. 

Origins of the European Parliament

The European Parliament (EP) was founded in 1952, although, under a different name. It used to be referred as the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (ESCE). The assembly did not have any legislative powers but was used by other representatives to bargain for policies instead. It wasn’t until 1962 that the ESCE began to expand and introduce new institutions, paving the way for new changes. The assembly was one of the first institutions to see its name change to the European Parliament; this was marked officially by the 1987 Single European Act. 

With its new name came more powers. In 1978, it gained full control over the European Union (EU) budget, and a parliament was assembled with officials from each Member State. Another pivotal moment took place in 2007 with the Treaty of Lisbon, which further increased the powers of the European Parliament. Members could control EU affairs and have an equal say with the Council of Ministers in budgetary matters. 

The Structure of the EU Parliament

The EP is represented by 705 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) from different Member States. Although this year the number will increase to 720 MEPs. Each country’s number of seats is based on its total population. For instance, Germany has 96 seats, while Malta, Luxembourg, and Cyprus, with the least number of inhabitants, only have 6 seats in the EP. Instead of political parties, the EP is organised into several political groups with parties from each Member State that share similar beliefs. This is to treat each nation equally and support cooperation between EU Member States. The EP also has a president, who is elected every 2,5 years by MEPs. The most important job of the President is to oversee the decision making of the EP and make sure that everyone is following the rules. The current EP president is Roberta Metsola.  

Political Parties in the EP 

The Left Group in the European Parliament (GUEL/NGL): Far-left to Left-wing, Democratic socialism

The Greens–European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA): Left-wing, Green politics 

Socialist & Democrats (S&D): Left-wing, Social democracy  

Renew Europe Group (Renew): Moderate, European liberalism 

European People Party (EPP): Centre-right, Christian democrats 

European Conservatives and Reformist Group (ECR): Centre-right to Far-right, National conservatism 

Identity and Democracy Group (ID): Right-wing to Far-right, Nationalism 

What Is the Role of the EU Parliament?

The EU Parliament is one of two legislative branches of the EU. It’s unique because it’s the only branch that can be directly influenced by EU citizens through elections. As part of the legislative branch, the EP is mainly focused on adopting legislation with the Council of Ministers. That said, the EP also plays a crucial role in controlling the EU budget, such as deciding how much should be spent from taxpayers' money, and has supervisory powers to check the activities of other EU institutions. This oversight is essential so that each branch does not abuse its powers. For that reason, the EP is also seen by many as the protector of democracy within Brussels, working endlessly to promote the interests of EU citizens.  

What Value Does Voting Have?

Voters elect EP representatives who shape and negotiate EU policies according to their interests. EP officials also vote and ratify new agreements that can be felt in your daily life, which Member States must adhere to. For example, these agreements can be carbon emissions, trade, or the allocation of taxpayer money. 

How Voting Works

The upcoming EU elections will take place in every Member State from June 6th-9th. Member States schedule their own elections according to the rules of national law. This means that if some Member States choose to hold their elections on June the 6th, they can begin counting the ballots but can only share the official outcome with everyone after every polling station has closed across the different states. Non-EU citizens are not eligible to vote in the EP elections.   

You need to be an EU citizen and, in most States, at least 18 years old if you want to cast your ballot in the EP elections (in some countries, it's either 16 or 17 years old). You have the right to vote in all Member States as an EU citizen. Although if you do intend to vote for a party from a different Member State than your country of origin, you must reside in that Member State. You can also vote from outside of Europe, in case you’re living abroad when the elections take place. However, each Member State has its own rules about this, so make sure to visit the website of the European Union.   

If you’re an EU citizen living in the Netherlands, you can also vote for Dutch political parties in the EU elections if you prefer to vote here rather than for a party in your country of origin. If you’re not sure how to do this, read our article about voting in the Netherlands as an EU citizen. You have until 23 April 2024 to register to vote as an EU citizen living in the Netherlands.

Voters in the Netherlands receive a voting pass (stem pass) and voting list with candidates from each political party a few days before the elections.When casting your ballot for the elections, you can also, aside from voting for a party, choose a specific candidate that will represent the party in the EP. 

Recent Debates

The EP is confronted with many topics that will define the European political and economic landscape for years to come. The Green Deal, also known as the Climate Energy Policy, is one of those debates where the mission has been set to strive for a climate neutral Europe by 2050. Although the public advocates for these goals, the narrative has come to a temporary halt with the eruption of the energy crisis triggered by the Ukranian war. The conflict has caused energy prices to rise, affecting business practices and the living standards of average consumers, worrying not only political groups but also ordinary citizens who feel their security needs will be endangered. So, the costs and policies of the climate package will be heavily discussed during this upcoming election, and one to look out for as a voter.  

Another critical debate sparked by the Ukrainian war has been the demand for stronger European security and defence. Many MEPs have pledged for the enlargement of the EU and enforcing a collective EU army as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This would mean that each Member State will have to contribute more money to supporting such initiatives and send their soldiers on collective missions. People in favour argue that it will improve industries and make the EU stronger as well as less reliant on dependency from US, but people opposed are sceptical about the efficiency of an EU army, claiming that each Member State will look to defend its own interests.  

Another important debate that has been a hot topic in previous EP elections has been the democratic challenges of the EU. The EU has had issues with "democratic deficit", an inability to promote direct transparency and communicate with EU citizens, resulting in low turnout rates in previous EP elections and more than half of the EU voters thinking their vote is a wasted opportunity. As such, MEPs are looking to combat this issue in the upcoming elections by rethinking EU democracy and creating a platform that involves strengthening EU legitimacy through public participation and empowerment. 

All in all, with the upcoming elections in sight and the importance of the EP as an institution, it's crucial to stay updated with the ongoing topics surrounding it. Informing yourself about these elections can not only increase your knowledge; it can also stimulate voter confidence. Stay tuned for new information and visit the European Union website if you're curious to know more about the elections and political parties.