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The European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Explainer

Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming European elections

Between the four days of 6-9 June voters across the EU will go to the polls to elect a new parliament.

IT HAS ALMOST been five years since Ireland last went to the polls to send politicians to Europe.

Cast your mind back to that election: establishment parties took a hit as green parties and the populist far-right made significant gains. The UK still hadn’t left the EU, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party winning the day. Most people had never heard of a coronavirus.

Five years and one global pandemic later, the world is a very different place. 

river - 2024-03-27T130234.755 MEPs Clare Daly and Barry Andrews talk to each other at the Dublin count centre in 2019. Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie / RollingNews.ie

Now voters across the EU will once again go to the polls between the four days of 6-9 June to send 720 new Members of European Parliament (MEPs) to Brussels and Strasbourg.

In Ireland, the elections will take place on 7 June. Across the bloc, pro-EU politicians are worried as anti-union populist parties are predicted to top the polls in at least nine EU member states, and make significant gains elsewhere.

There has also been a strong kickback against the implementation of green policies, with farmers’ groups in many countries holding widespread disruptive protests, and demanding changes to key EU nature restoration laws.

But how do the elections work? How many MEPs will Ireland send? And what happens after?

How do the European elections work?

The European Parliament is the second largest in the world (after the Parliament of India) and is currently made up of 705 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from 27 member states. The number of seats will be increased in the next election to 720.

Ireland currently has 13 MEPs representing its three European constituencies and will gain an extra seat after the elections on 7 June, bringing the total number of Irish MEPs to 14. Each member state is allocated a minimum of six seats in the Parliament.

The three constituencies of Ireland for June’s elections are:

  • Dublin (4 seats)
  • Midlands North-West (4 seats going to 5)
  • South (5 seats) 

Voters in Ireland will cast their ballot for their selected candidate at the same time they are voting in the local elections. You can get a breakdown of who has put their name forward to run so far here.

river - 2024-03-27T130457.221 Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie / RollingNews.ie

It is up to each country to manage its own elections. But there are four ‘common principles’ each country must adhere to:

  • Elections take place during a four-day period, from Thursday to Sunday.
  • The number of MEPs elected from a political party is proportional to the number of votes it receives.
  • EU citizens resident in another EU country can vote and stand for election there.
  • Each citizen can vote only once.

In Ireland, this means the elections will be decided through proportional representation with a single transferable vote (PR-STV). 

Anyone over the age of 18 who is registered to vote can vote in the election. You must register to vote at least 15 days before polling day. 

Once the polls close on the day, the ballot papers are taken to the count centre for each constituency and counting begins. You can learn more about how PR-STV works here.

When the count is done, the Returning Officer of each constituency declares the results and sends the names of each elected member to the Chief Returning Officer who then notifies the European Parliament.

The results cannot be declared until voting throughout the EU is completed.

What happens after the elections?

Okay, so the votes have been cast, the results are in and there are whoops of joy, tears of sorrows and winners hoisted onto shoulders. Now, it’s time to get started.

Once the die has been cast and results rubber stamped, MEPs start negotiations to form political groups. These groups are cross-national groupings which broadly represent an MEP’s domestic party’s values and are filled with like-minded politicians. 

There are seven political groups in the current European Parliament. The largest of these is the European People’s Party.

A group must have 23 members in order to form, and at least one-quarter of the EU Member States must be represented within the group. MEPs are not allowed to join more than one political group.

bucharest-romania-march-16-2019-klaus-iohannis-the-president-of-romania-speaks-at-the-european-peoples-party-epp-summit-held-in-bucharest-credit-lcvalamy-live-news Klaus Iohannis, the then-president of Romania, speaks at the European People's Party (EPP) summit, held in Bucharest in 2019. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Negotiations may continue right up to the first plenary session and new groups may be formed. You can find more about the various groups and how the different institutions of the EU function here.

The new EU legislature will officially start on Tuesday 16 July. This will be the first day back at school for many MEPs, and they will meet in the Parliament in Strasbourg until Friday 19 July.

In this time, MEPs will vote to elect a new president of the European Parliament. This is a sitting MEP usually from one of the biggest political groups whose job it is to preside over the debates and activities of the parliament. They serve a 2.5 year term, so there are usually two presidents per parliament term.

MEPs will also elect 14 Vice-Presidents and five Quaestors (people whose job it is to oversee administrative and financial matters directly affecting MEPs), and they will also vote on the composition of Parliament’s standing committees and subcommittees, which will officially launch the new term.

roberta-metsolapresident-of-the-european-parliament-roberta-metsola-guest-at-italian-tv-show-che-tempo-che-familan-italy30th-january-2022photo-by-sgpsipa-usaitalyid-127112not-exclusive President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The first committee meetings will then be held and each committee will elect its Chair and Vice-Chair.

Confused about what MEPs actually do over there? This article has all the info you need.

Once all this is done, and the committees have been set up and the parliament is underway, it’s time to get down to the real business – the summer recess. MEPs will take their summer break at the end of July until the start of September. 

Immediately before or after that, however, they will need to elect a European Commission President.

How is the Commission President elected?

The European Commission drafts laws, directives and regulations relating to the agenda set by the leaders of the member states and has a lot of power. The President chairs this group, and is currently German politician Ursula von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen is likely to seek reelection for another five-year term, and there’s a good chance she will get it.

download (12) Ex-Commissioner for trade Phil Hogan (L) speaking with Ursula von der Leyen in January 2020. Alamy Alamy

While the final dates have not yet been decided for this, the new president could be elected during the first plenary session after the summer recess (16-19 September). Back in 2019, however, it happened in July after the Parliament was formed.

Either way, it has to happen soon after the European elections. The European Council (made up of the leaders of each EU member state) puts forward a candidate and the parliament votes to elect the President by secret ballot. A majority of MEPs (361 in a Parliament of 720 Members) must vote for a candidate for them to become President.

Is that it then?

Not quite.

Finally, the Commissioners are appointed to the European Commission. Each Commissioner is assigned responsibility for a specific policy area by the Commission President.

The Commission is comprised of 27 Commissioners, one from each member state, and a President. The group can be viewed as a cabinet of ministers for the EU, as policies are tabled and proposed by often the most senior politicians in the bloc.

Before they take up office, Commissioners are assessed first by the Committee on Legal Affairs in relation to their Declaration of Interests.

Then they must provide written replies to several questions, before they face a three-hour live streamed hearing in front of whatever parliamentary committee is responsible for their portfolio.

Once all of this has concluded, the Commission President presents their team and outlines the Commission’s political priorities during a parliament session.

MEPs then decide to vote whether to invest the new College of Commissioners for a mandate of five years.

And that’s it! Simple, right? 

With reporting from Muiris O’Cearbhaill

***

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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