Between May 22 and May 25 2014, around 400 million Europeans of voting age, coming from each of the 28 member states of the European Union, will have the chance to choose who will represent them in the European Parliament (EP) legislature for the next five years.
Each voter selects his or her preferred candidate or party. In some countries the votes are counted on a nationwide basis, and that country will return a fixed number of winning candidates. Other countries are split up into regions or constituencies, and these regions will send a fixed number of winning candidates to the European Parliament.
The bigger a country’s population, the more Members of Parliament it sends. Germany for example, the EU’s most populous country, will send 96 MEPs while Malta will send six. Between them the 28 member states will dispatch 751 MEPs to the European Parliament, whose work takes place in Strasbourg and in Brussels.
While the number of MEPs has grown by more than 50 percent since they were first directly elected by European citizens in 1979, the turnout of voters for the European elections has steadily declined. This year, EU leaders hope for a larger citizen mobilisation and a turnout of more than 50 percent.
Once elected, the MEPs can join up with others of similar political orientations to form groups within parliament which are like Europe-wide political parties. Groups must be made up of at least 25 MEPs from at least 25 percent of the member states, which currently means seven countries. Some MEPs choose not to join or form groups.
There are several advantages to being part of a group: more office space, more staff, more speaking time, and more money from the European Parliament. Political groups can also table motions and amendments. The group leaders also meet to set the agenda of the parliament plenary session. The composition of committees and sub-committees reflects the composition of the EP groups.
There are currently seven political groups in the European parliament, although there may be some new ones after this year’s elections.
For the first time, the groups have designated candidates for the presidency of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. The candidates will participate in four debates, beginning April 28. The candidate for the party that wins the most votes in the election will not necessarily be the next Commission president. It is the prerogative of the heads of state in the European Council to appoint this person, taking into account the election results. The MEPs then vote to approve or reject the Council’s nomination.
Once the Commission President has been elected by the parliament, that person negotiates with member states to pick the other Commissioners one per country. Also subject to the MEPs’ approval, they make up the EU’s governing team, in principle for the next five years.