Get out the vote: countdown to European Parliament elections gets underway

Newsroom 28/10/2013 | 09:09

Every five years, EU citizens choose who will represent them in the European Parliament, appointing MEPs as ambassadors for their interests in the EU decision-making process. In May 2014, around 400 million eligible voters are set to decide the future make-up of the European Parliament. BR took a look at the Romanian chapter and how the big picture is shaping up.

By  Oana Vasiliu

The European elections of May 22-25, 2014, will give the people of Europe the opportunity to decide the political direction they want the EU to take. Moreover, how the 2014 elections reshape the European Parliament – the only directly elected EU institution – will, for the first time in the EU’s history, determine who leads the European Commission, the EU’s executive body.

Furthermore, MEPs recently approved the EU’s long-term budget for 2014-2020 and will now decide each year, together with national governments, how taxpayers’ money is to be spent.


The voting system

Under the Lisbon Treaty, elections to the European Parliament are largely governed by national electoral laws and traditions. Each member state therefore decides whether to use an open or a closed list system. However, there are common EU rules which stipulate that the elections must be by direct universal suffrage as well as free and confidential.

MEPs must be elected on the basis of proportional representation, from six each for Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Estonia to 96 for Germany, giving a total of 751. EU citizens living in an EU country other than their country of origin are entitled to vote and stand in European elections in their country of residence.

The vote will take place from May 22-25, 2014. Taking into consideration the Romanian tradition of voting on Sundays, the local election day for the European Parliament will probably be May 25.


The Romanian chapter

Currently, Romania is represented in the European Parliament by 33 members, whose group allegiances are as follows: 14 in the European People’s Party (EPP), 11 in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), 5 in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and 3 non-attached members (NI), according to an official European Parliament document released in April 2013.

In Romania, a press conference looking forward to the official launch of the electoral campaign was held in the presence of Marian-Jean Marinescu, vice-chair of the EPP (Christian Democrats), Corina Cretu, vice-chair of the S&D, Adina Valean, vice-chair of the ALDE and Madalina Mihalache, head of the EP Information Office in Romania, on September 20.

The campaigning will take place in 2014, one month prior to May 22-25, the official dates of the European elections.

Asked by journalists if they would run in next year’s elections, the three MEPs invited to the press conference replied that it had not been discussed officially by the national parties that they represented in the European Parliament, but that it was likely they would.

However, none of the speakers would divulge their party’s candidate for president of the European Parliament, although they admitted that some rumors were circulating. Contacted by BR, the press officer of MEP Renate Weber reconfirmed she hoped to run in the forthcoming elections, but, again, said the national party had not officially discussed the candidates for the new-look European Parliament.

Corina Cretu commented that this election campaign should improve the image of Romanians and Bulgarians throughout the EU, as some MEPs have already voiced their concerns about the work permits that will be available to citizens of the two countries from January 2014.

The best known Romanian MEP is probably Adrian Severin, who represented the European Parliament’s socialist group before he was expelled in March 2011, having been implicated in the cash-for-influence scandal that forced the resignation of two EU legislators.

Currently, Severin is standing trial in Romania for allegedly agreeing to take money from fake lobbyists more than two years ago in return for introducing amendments to draft EU laws in the European Parliament.

Severin, a heavyweight of the S&D group at that time, was caught with two other MEPs – Austrian Ernst Strasser of the EPP and Zorah Thaler of Slovenia, another Socialist – by journalists from the UK’s Sunday Times who were posing as lobbyists.

Romania’s anti-corruption agency, the DNA, charged Severin with corruption over the allegations. The politician protested his innocence last month in the national press, but said he was not sure whether he would win the case.

The news website reports Severin, who had nursed ambitions for the job of EU foreign policy chief, which eventually went to Catherine Ashton, protested that there was nothing wrong if his “consultancy services” were remunerated.

Since the first local election of MEPs, back in 2009, four Romanian representatives have resigned: Ramona Manescu, who represented the ALDE until August 25 this year, and is currently Romania’s minister of transportation, Cristian Busoi, who also represented the ALDE until June 27 this year, George Becali, who was a non-attached member until December 18, 2012, when he applied for a chair in the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, and Romava Plumb, who represented the S&D in the European Parliament until May 6, 2012 and is now Romania’s minister of environment and climate change.


ACT. REACT. INTERACT. The communication campaign

The official run-up to the 2014 European elections started on September 10, when the European Parliament launched its awareness and information campaign. The campaign will continue beyond the elections themselves, until the newly voted-in Parliament in turn elects the next European Commission president.

Act.React.Interact. is the slogan the EU is using to encourage its citizens to participate in shaping a better Europe. By voting, you can influence the decisions that touch your life as well as the lives of over 500 million people. EU officials promise that the European Parliament will react to the demands of the citizenry, as its job is to listen to the multitude of voices in Europe and provide real answers. The decisions we make together have an impact on the day-to-day life of every European citizen, they say.

“The objectives of this communication campaign are to inform European citizens about the European elections and, in particular, to help them better understand the impact of decisions taken at EU level, including by the European Parliament, upon their lives, our lives, everyday life. Perhaps one of the most important things that differentiate this campaign from others in the past is that the impact of citizens’ voting will have a greater impact upon the establishment of a political majority in the EP, which is set to elect the future president of the European Commission,” said Madalina Mihalache, head of the EP Information Office in Romania.

She added, “It is nonpartisan. It will highlight the impact of Parliament’s decisions on daily life, but will not be at all connected to the campaigns that the European political parties and the national parties will conduct in their countries and at the European level.”

The main message of the campaign, she added, is to highlight the difference from earlier stages of the EP’s activity, encapsulated by the slogan, “This time is different”. “The context is very different from previous years. We are in a situation where Parliament has more power following the Lisbon Treaty and it wants to make this connection between voting and the appointment of a new president of the European Commission,” said Mihalache.

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