The European Parliament (EP) is the only EU institution directly elected by citizens and one of the largest democratic assemblies in the world. It used to be a consultative assembly made up of representatives of the Member State parliaments, however it is now elected by direct universal suffrage since 1979.
A total of 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), elected every five years, represent around 500 million people from 28 Member States. All EU citizens aged 18 or over (16 in Austria) are eligible to vote, even if they live in another EU Member State. EU citizens can also stand as a candidate in the election in any EU Member State. To know more about the origins of the EP, click here.
Once elected, Members are organized in political groups along ideological lines, and not by nationality. Currently, there are 8 political groups: the European People's Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL), the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and Europe For Nations and Freedom (ENF). MEPs that do not belong to any political group, are called 'non-attached' Members. The EP works in the 24 official languages of the European Union, and MEPs have the right to speak in any of the official languages of their choice, with simultaneous interpreting that is offered in all plenary sessions. Click here to find out more about the EP’s organization and work.
While the European Parliament has its official seat in Strasbourg, most of the committee meetings are held in Brussels and the Secretariat is hosted by Luxembourg. Votes and debates take place in Strasbourg during the monthly plenary sessions, which last four days, with additional part-sessions that are held in Brussels. During the plenary, MEPs vote on hundreds of amendments, paragraphs and reports. Most votes are held by show of hands, meaning that MEPs put up their hand to signal whether they are in favor or against a proposal or wish to abstain. The outcome of such votes is recorded, but not the individual vote expressed by each MEPs. However, many votes, including all final votes on legislative dossiers, are held by 'roll call', meaning that the vote of each individual MEP is recorded.
The 2019 European Parliament Elections
According to the EP website, the procedures for electing the European Parliament are governed both by European legislation defining rules common to all Member States and by specific national provisions which vary from one state to another. The common rules lay down the principle of proportional representation and certain incompatibilities with a mandate as a Member of the European Parliament. Many other important matters, such as the exact electoral system used and the number of constituencies, are governed by national laws.
The next Elections to the European Parliament are expected to be held in 23–26 May 2019. In February 2018, the European Parliament voted to decrease the number of MEPs from 751 to 705 after the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union on the current schedule. The seats are allocated to the Member States according to their population. Each state has a fixed number of seats, and these are distributed following a principle of “digressive proportionality”, meaning that smaller states are allocated more seats per inhabitant than bigger states.
According to the European Council, the Council has reached at ambassador level an agreement to improve the EU electoral law, while the old laws dated from the 1976 Electoral Act will be reformed. It is proposed that when the new laws are ready, the European Parliament will vote on them.
The stated purpose of the new laws is to improve citizens' participation in the EP elections, to raise understanding of their European character, and to prevent irregular voting while respecting the constitutional and electoral traditions of the Member States.
The draft considers forbidding "double voting", voting in third countries, and improving the visibility of European political parties. To avoid double voting, contact authorities will be established to exchange data on non-national citizen voters. This process will have to start at least six weeks before the EP elections.