The countdown has started: there are 100 days to go until the first polling stations open for the 2014 European elections.
In the second biggest democratic exercise in the world, 400 million people can cast their vote for a new European Parliament. The 751 MEPs taking up their seats in July will not only set the course of European policies for the next five years but also elect the leader of the EU's executive body, the European Commission President. (More than 500000 Cypriots are invited to vote in the European elections on 25 May to elect 6 representatives to the European Parliament for 2014-2019.)
Why these elections are different
The increase in the European Parliament’s powers since 2009 has started to make itself felt as the European Union sought to pull through the economic crisis and MEPs drew up legislation, inter alia on effective budgetary discipline, the winding down of failing banks and caps on bankers' bonuses. The May European elections therefore will allow voters to contribute to strengthening or changing the direction that Europe takes in tackling the economic crisis and in many other issues affecting people’s daily lives.
For the first time, the composition of the new European Parliament will determine who will lead the next European Commission, the EU's executive body, which initiates legislation and supervises its implementation. Under the new rules, EU government leaders, who will propose a candidate for the post of the future Commission President, must do so on the basis of the election results. The European Parliament will elect the new Commission President by a majority of the component members, i.e. at least half of the 751 MEPs to be elected (376). European political parties will therefore, or have already, put forward their candidates for this leading position in the EU before the European elections, thus allowing citizens to have a say over next Commission President.
The new political majority emerging from the elections will also shape European legislation over the next five years in areas from the single market to civil liberties. The Parliament - the only directly elected EU institution - is now a linchpin of the European decision-making system and has an equal say with national governments on virtually all EU laws. Voters will be more influential than ever!
Parliament currently has seven political groups, representing more than 160 national parties.
According to Parliament’s rules, members of a group must share a "political affiliation" and must include at least 25 members from at least one quarter of Member States (currently, at least seven). Members who do not wish or cannot be assigned to a group are called “non-attached”.
There are common EU rules for the elections, but to a large extent they are organised around national traditions and laws. For instance, it is up to each Member State to decide whether it uses an open or closed list system or a specific threshold, as long as this is not higher than 5%. There are some common incompatibilities, but each country can also impose its own. The minimum voting age is 18 in all countries except Austria, where it is 16. The minimum age for election candidates varies from country to country, though in most cases it is also 18.
Voting is compulsory in Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Luxembourg.
Ongoing EP work
But even though attention is now focused on the forthcoming elections, the work of the current Parliament is not over and the coming months will be full of political and legislative decisions. The legislative dossiers still on the current Parliament’s agenda include: the single resolution mechanism for failing banks, the banking union; deposit guarantees, the telecoms package, food and animal health inspections, posting of workers, data protection; product safety, port services, the railway package and “single sky” rules. Parliament still has to vote final texts on criminal penalties for market manipulation, CO2 car emissions, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, and the Tobacco Directive among others. Debates on the EU Commission/European Central Bank/IMF “Troika” and on US National Security Agency surveillance are also on the agenda.
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