Citizens from the 28 European Union member states voted to elect 751 European Parliament members from May 23–26 in the world’s second largest democratic exercise in history.
The European Parliament is the only EU institution directly elected by the citizens, according to Deutsche Welle. Parliament is in charge of everything from adopting and amending EU laws to regulating the €160 billion annual budget.
Each of the 28 EU member states gets a number of Parliament members, or MEPs, directly proportional to their population. Germany, which has the largest population in the EU, has 96 seats, while Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta have the least representation, with six seats each. The total 751 available seats is set to decrease to 705 after Brexit, according to Deutsche Welle.
Voter turnout was the highest it has been in two decades, with a final overall turnout of over 50%, though this number varied significantly across different member states.
“People went to vote, they participated,” Manfred Weber, the Christian Democrat who is set to lead the European Commission for the European People’s Party, told Deutsche Welle. “They used their right to vote to decide about the future of Europe, and that gives the European Parliament much more credibility and legitimacy for the future of the continent.”
Despite compulsory voting in Bulgaria, the country’s turnout was 30.83%, the lowest turnout rate since 2007. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, had its highest voter turnout rate since 2004, with 36.9% of eligible voters showing up to the polls. This EU election cycle will play a significant role in the UK’s future in the Union due to Brexit negotiations still taking place.
According to EuroNews, The Brexit Party won a majority of the UK’s available seats with 31.69% of the votes, with the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats coming in second at 18.53%. The current ruling Conservative party placed fifth with only 8.68%.
“So this is what total annihilation feels like,” Conservative Party member Daniel Hannah told The Telegraph. “I can tell you now that the Conservatives have been wiped out.”
“The Green wave”
The Green Party, a pro-environment and pro-EU party, took a surprising percentage of the votes this year throughout all 28 EU member countries. In a “Green Wave,” the party won 20% of Germany’s vote and came in second. The Green Party won 16% of the vote in Finland, 13.47% in France and 12% in the UK. Out of the available 751 seats, the Green Party walked away with about 70, up from 51 seats in the 2014 elections, according to Vox.
Deutsche Welle reports young voters played a major role in the Green Party’s success in Germany. Approximately 36% of first-time voters were in favor of the Greens, which is three times as many first-time voters in favor of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party.
The Christian Democrats allied with the Bavarian Christian Social Union Party for the European Parliament elections, but despite their partnership, this was the conservatives’ worst in history. The two parties still hold a majority of the seats in the European Parliament, but took away only 28.7% of the vote.
Deutsche Welle contributes the Green’s success to their focus on climate change, which is a growing issue among young people. “All the parties suddenly put climate protection on their posters a few weeks ago,” Green Party leader, Annalena Baerbock told German broadcasting outlet ARD. “This climate protection campaign needs to be reflected in the agenda of the parties.”
The lack of focus on climate change was an ongoing issue throughout other countries as well. In the Netherlands, the Green Party won three out of the available 26 seats. According to The Guardian, Bas Eickhour, an MEP for the Netherlands and Green Party member, said the election placed “a great responsibility” on the party because “the voters have given [them] their trust.”
“Our voters, especially the younger generation, for many of whom we are now their first choice, are deeply concerned about the climate change crisis, and they are pro-European—but they feel the EU is not delivering,” Eickhout told The Guardian. “They want us to change the course of Europe.”
One of the most significant changes in the elections in May was the shift away from the right and left-centered political parties. This shift has led several politicians to call for bipartisanship within the European Parliament.
“We are facing a shrinking center,” Weber told Reuters. “When I look to the figures, I don’t see a majority against the liberals, I don’t see a majority against the socialists, I don’t see a majority against the European People’s Party. So what I would ask us to do it to join our forces to work together from now.”