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What EU institution do we elect in May 2019? Three special features of the European Parliament

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

The European parliamentary election is coming up in May 2019. During these elections, EU citizens can determine their representatives in the European Parliament for the coming years. The European Parliament is one of the most powerful and interesting institutions of the EU. Its members are directly elected by the public, and have been since 1979. But let’s have a closer look at this institution and consider three special features:

1) Multiple Seats Across Europe

The European Parliament, unlike most parliaments, has not an exclusive single seat, instead it has several seats across the EU, namely in Brussels (Belgium), Strasbourg (France) and Luxembourg. Normally, Members of the European Parliament work in Brussels, where they interact with the other EU institutions based in there, for example the European Commission or the Council of Ministers. However, once a month, the European Parliament moves to Strasbourg for a full week of plenary session. This arrangement is partly criticised as ineffective, costly and unnecessary – it seems much easier to have a permanent, single seat, right? However, there are some reasons for this unique European Parliament arrangement.

Firstly, Strasbourg is a very symbolic location connected to European, and particularly French-German, history, which was coined by war and violence in the past. Today, Strasbourg as a European city embodies some of the core EU values: peace, cooperation, and debate. Therefore, having EU parliamentary debates in Strasbourg is a symbol against the violent European past and for a peaceful future. At the same time, the close cooperation and coordination with other EU institutions is much easier in Brussels, which speeds up the EU decision-making process. So, the current arrangement of several seats pays tribute to both objectives.

In addition, the EU is no centralised construct governed from Brussels. Instead, it gathers strength through regional outreach: The European Court of Justice, for example, is located in Luxembourg, the European Central Bank in Frankfurt – and EU agencies have their headquarters all across the EU. The European Parliament is no exception. Being located in several EU Member States, it embodies the idea of regional diversification. And of course, the current arrangement is also a political compromise. So, when discussing a possible reform of the current arrangement, we should keep these underpinning reasons in mind.

2) Same Parliament, Different Rules

Another interesting feature is the election mode. Although the European Parliament electoral period is determined at the European level, the execution of the election is done by the Member States in accordance with national law. So, the election day is different across the EU: EU citizens in the Netherlands elect their representatives on Thursday (23.05.2019), in the Czech Republic the vote is cast on Friday (24.05.2019) and Saturday (25.05.2019), and EU citizens in Romania and Germany will only vote on Sunday, 26.05.2019.

Although we are all voting for the same institution, the European Parliament, the election day and the applicable electoral rules vary from Member State to Member State. Therefore, it is important to check in advance in your Member State of residence whether you have to register for the vote and on which day the vote is cast. You can check the rules for your country on our website.

3) Parliamentary Groups

Finally, the number of parliamentarians per Member State varies. Germany, as EU Member State with the largest population, elects 96 parliamentarians, whereas Malta, the Member State with the smallest population, elects 7 parliamentarians. The exact number of representatives per Member State is calculated on the basis of power balance between larger and smaller Member States, as well as population (so-called degressive proportionality).

Once elected, however, the parliamentarians do not sit according to their Member State of origin. But they form parliamentary groups and work across national borders according to political affiliation on EU policy matters. Christian-conservative parties, for example, unite in the European People’s Party (EPP), the social democrats in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and we have currently six other political groups in the European Parliament with different underpinning political goals.

Besides these unique features, it should be said that the European Parliament has gained more and more influence in the European decision-making process over the last decades. Under the current EU Treaties, it acts as co-decision maker next to the Council of Ministers. Given the large power that the European Parliament enjoys today, it is important that we as EU citizens participate in the upcoming European election in May 2019. And don’t forget to check the election date in your EU Member State.

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