Connect to share and comment

Reasons to care about the European Parliament elections

Believe it or not, the EU Parliament is very influential — and the politics are fascinating.

A young girl walks past a billboard advertising the European Union elections in Brussels. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)

BRUSSELS — Candidates are off and running in the race to be one of the 736 members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The June 4 through June 7 balloting will be the largest transnational election in history, with 375 million people across 27 countries eligible to help send delegates to Brussels.

Long maligned as powerless, the EP actually is very influential in a multinational government whose decisions increasingly impact citizens’ lives (EU regulations have had an effect on consumer products and services from mobile phone plans to feta cheese).

For the next five years, the EP — the only part of the European Union bureaucracy directly elected by voters — will be responsible for drafting an ever-increasing number of laws and regulations that member states must observe. It must approve the entire EU budget and has the right to force the resignation of members of the EU executive branch, the European Commission. The EP’s influence will grow if the Lisbon reform treaty is ratified by all member states.

Already, notes the EP’s promotional material, the parliament’s votes “shape final EU legislation that influences our everyday life, be it the food on our plates, the cost of our shopping, the quality of the air we breathe, or the safety of our children’s toys.”

Who wouldn’t want to have their say over these critical issues?

Apparently, the majority of EU voters.

One of the biggest problems the European Parliament has is that few of the almost half-billion people whose lives it governs seem to care much about choosing its members. Turnout has fallen consistently in the 30 years that direct EP elections have been held, from 62 percent in 1979 to 48 percent in 2004.

No one is predicting an upswing this year — in general. Specialized parties — some of which are actually anti-EU, such as the United Kingdom Independence Party — might be able to mobilize their voters and win a share of seats disproportionate to their support among the general population.