Will European elections upset the union’s applecart?

21 May 2019

Elections to the European parliament on 23-26 May 2019 will mark the biggest electoral contest in Europe as voters elect the currently 751 MEPs representing more than 512 million people from the (still) 28 member states.

Recent projections indicate that the political polarisation seen in a number of member states will filter through to the EP, with centrist parties (centre-left, centre-right and liberals) struggling to maintain their majority. Eurosceptics are expected to occupy up to a third of the seats as issues including climate change, migration and open borders, populism and an “ever-closer” union, and relations with the US and China, dominate the debates.

The elections will test the support for populists, with national parties having teamed up and formed cross-European alliances. A strong showing for Eurosceptic parties could complicate decision-making at a time when momentum for eurozone institutional reform is flagging, while EP election gains could reverberate in member states.

Muddling the picture is Brexit, with the UK still taking part in the vote after postponing the deadline for its departure from the EU several times as UK politicians failed to agree on the exit terms. Once the UK withdraws, the number of seats is due to drop to 705 as those left open are not filled again. Reflecting electoral sentiment – perhaps not just in the UK – the pro-leave Brexit party has built a considerable lead in local polls, well ahead of the opposition Labour and the ruling Conservatives.

If the established political alignment in the parliament – the traditional coalition of the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D – fails to hold its ground, an alliance of four parties might be needed to pass laws.

In addition to determining the make-up of the parliament, which is one of the EU’s two co-legislators along with the council of ministers, the election results may play a role in determining the division of the EU’s top jobs.

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Read also European Parliamentary Elections – will this time be different?