In terms of scale, the European elections rival those in the US or India: 380 million people called upon to vote for a continent’s new representatives, in the shape of the European Parliament’s 751 MEPs.
But there is little sense of pride in the EU’s institutions. Instead, anger has swept Europe. The crisis has brought austerity, unemployment and stagnation. Many feel that individual nations’ powers are being eroded.
In these circumstances the current make-up of the European Parliament, where the centre-right forms the biggest group, looks set for a shake-up.
In 2009 the European People’s Party (EPP) won 274 out of a total of 766 seats, ahead of the second-placed Socialists and Democrats (S&D) with 196, and the liberal ALDE group in third with 83 seats.
According to the latest European polls ahead of the 2014 elections, the biggest party now – the EPP – is likely still to come top but may be reduced to an effective dead heat with the centre-left S&D.
PollWatch 2014, which makes regular predictions about the outcome of the European elections, forecast on May 20 that the EPP would get 217 seats, the S&D 201, with ALDE on 59.
Smaller moderate parties could also be squeezed, according to opinion polls.
Political analyst Karel Lannoo, Chief Executive Officer with the Centre for European Policy Studies, predicts a lot of hard bargaining ahead for the EPP – with considerable risks.
“They will have to rely on coalitions with other groups, much more then in the past, to adopt legislation. You need to have two or three smaller blocks to join the EPP if they want to vote on something which the socialists are against. If the Parliament, which today had a problem already about a democratic deficit, if tomorrow it’s becoming even more inefficient, what will be the outcome of that?” he asks.
The real winners could well be those who until now have been on Europe’s fringes.
It is thought that eurosceptics on both right and left could take around a quarter of all seats, with a much higher proportion of nationalist MEPS than at present.
The question is, what will they do next?
“If they want to do something, they will need to form a group. If they remain fragmented, that of course will not affect the big parties a lot. But I imagine that, lets say, they will do whatever they can to block as much as possible,” says Karel Lannoo.
As Euronews’ correspondent in Brussels Isabel Marques da Silva explains, the key to these elections lies in the turnout.
“One of the lessons about people’s commitment towards the EU will be given by the rate of abstention, which has been increasing since 1979. In that year, 61 percent of voters went to the polls, but in the last elections only 43 percent cast their vote,” she said.