Your say in EU parliament

Understanding how European elections work

european union 2 cols

The European parliamentary elections will take place from 22nd to 25th May, amidst growing criticism of their limited influence on EU policy. However, this year’s elections will, for the first time, play a role in choosing the next president of the European commission.

At the end of the month, citizens of EU member states over the age of 18 will be able to vote for the party of their choice in the upcoming European elections. France’s 74 seats in parliament will then be distributed between those parties according to the voting results.

The current 13 members of the European parliament (MEP) from the south east of France include Gaston Franco, mayor of Saint-Martin-Vésubie in the Alpes Maritimes – who will not run for re-election – and former head of the far right National Front (FN) party Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Of the many European institutions, only parliament has its members elected by the people. It shares the legislative power with the council of the European Union, while the executive power is controlled by the European council and the European commission, and the court of justice of the European Union controls the judiciary power.

The limited power of the European parliament has led to growing criticism because of the apparent lack of democracy in the EU. While the FN is the party best known in France for criticising the union, some have expressed frustration at that message being co-opted by the far right.

The newly created CDR-RUE association (Departmental Committee of Republican Resistance to the European Union), which launched on 11th April in the Alpes Maritimes, is calling for a boycott of the European elections, telling Nice Matin, “We don’t share the National Front’s xenophobic ideas. It bothered us that they were monopolising that political discourse.

“But we wish to alert people about the construction of an anti-democratic European Union, which is taking power away from France and other nations.”

However, this year’s elections will be the first since the treaty of Lisbon was enacted in 2009, which lead to changes in the European parliament’s influence. Most significantly, citizens now have a say in the nomination of the next president of the European commission as member states must “take into account the elections to the European Parliament” when making their choice.

Voter turnout in France has been significantly declining over the years, falling from 60.7% in 1979 to 40.5% in 2009. Time will tell whether the changes brought by the treaty of Lisbon will be enough to reverse that trend.

Also published in The Riviera Times, May 2014 edition