Elections to the European Parliament are in many respects the ugly duckling of the European election cycle. They lack the obvious importance and immediate repercussions of presidential and parliamentary elections, yet they undeniably embody the core of the European ideal, even in its current battered and beleaguered state. The European Parliament’s 751 members are, after all, directly elected by the European Union’s 500 million citizens. In recent decades, the Parliament’s role in the EU’s institutional architecture has deepened, giving members a prominent role in drafting legislation and approving the EU’s budget. Yet the Parliament’s rising stature has not been matched by equal levels of public awareness of its role. The work of the Parliament and the identity of its members remain largely unknown to most Europeans, except when their behavior symbolizes the EU’s shortcomings (as with the ongoing expenses scandal). Even as the Parliament’s role has expanded, turnout for elections has declined, slipping from 63% in 1979 to 43% in 2014. Moreover, European parliamentary elections are often viewed as little more than barometers of national political moods: despite the spectacular fact (at least from an historical perspective) that twenty-eight countries across the continent, from Spain to Bulgaria, from Malta to Finland, choose members for the same body more or less on the same day, most countries view the elections almost exclusively through the lens of domestic politics.

Continue reading