News·2 min read

European Parliament elections: How they work and why they matter

Woman votes in European Parliament election
Getty Images
May 23, 2019

The Story

EU elections are going down this weekend. And populist parties are hoping to make significant gains.

Wait, elections for what exactly?

The European Parliament. Hundreds of millions of EU citizens are eligible to vote. Parliament is the group responsible for approving, rejecting, or tweaking EU laws and hammering out the EU budget, among other things. Every five years, the EU’s 28 member countries hold elections to fill seats on the Parliament. There are 751 seats, distributed by population size (Germany gets the most seats).

So who’s running?

Each country puts up its own candidates and runs its own election. Elections start Thursday and occur over four days. In Parliament, representatives affiliate with different EU political parties. The biggest is the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), which includes reps from Germany’s leading party.

We get into more about how the election works in Skimm This.

What about the populist parties you mentioned?

We didn’t forget. This election tends to have really low voter turnout. But there a few issues putting a brighter than normal spotlight on it this year. Like

Euroskepticism…describes people who don’t want their country to integrate with the EU. Many from across the political spectrum see the EU as a bureaucratic PIA. And support for Euroskeptic parties is on the rise. Lawmakers are crossing their fingers for major gains in this weekend’s election. Euroskepticism can also overlap with a variety of other movements, including populism, nationalism, and the far-right. Speaking of...

Populism…as in a movement that distrusts what it considers elites (in this case the EU). Right now, the far-right, populist movement in Europe is being led by Italian Deputy PM Matteo Salvini. His new EU party wants to close borders to migrants – an attitude toward migrants that’s become increasingly common since the 2015 migrant crisis.

The far right...are also hoping for a breakthrough in this election. This label describes groups associated with severe anti-immigrant and anti-minority messaging, including against Muslims and Jews. They tend to be anti-EU since the EU allows freedom of movement between member states.

Plus there’s Brexit. We get into that, plus what this year’s election could mean for the future of the EU, in theSkimm app. Every week, the app goes deep on a different news topic to give you the context you need to understand what's going in the world. Download the app now, and you get the first week free.

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