What to expect from the 2019 European elections?

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Every five years, citizens of the European Union (EU) go to the polls to choose those who will best represent them as Members of the European Parliament (Parliament). Between the 23rd and 26th of May 2019, the elections for the 9th term of the Parliament will be held, closely followed by the appointment of a new College of Commissioners at the head of the European Commission (Commission). The year 2019 should see some major changes for the EU, setting a particular context for these elections.


Of course, if each election year brings its specific issues, the year 2019 will be different from the others as the UK is set to leave the EU in March. Brexit, and the numerous and complicated renegotiations that it implies, would also entail  a redistribution of the seats so far occupied by British MEPs. Several options were thus presented for the reallocation of the vacated seats, including the idea of transnational candidates lists. In a debate where many MEPs disagreed (sometimes within the same party) this proposal was however rejected on the 7th of February 2018 during the plenary session in Strasbourg[1]. The majority preferred the option of reducing the total number of seats, from 751 to 705, and redistributing 27 seats previously allocated to the UK to other Member States. France and Spain benefited the most from this decision since both countries won five new seats each[2].

In addition to the redistribution of seats left vacant in the Parliament due to Brexit, another debate has been held for some months among the European institutions with regard to  the Commission. Indeed, in 2014, the European Commission saw its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, designated for the first time with the so-called "Spitzenkandidat" process (lead candidate). This process, made up from a specific interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty[3], implies that the presidency of the Commission goes to the candidate of the party that wins the most seats in Parliament. Praised for its democratic nature - the European Parliament sees in it a proof of increased transparency[4] -, it should, despite a certain opposition[5], be re-applied in future elections. Or at least that is what the Parliament and the Commission[6] would like to see happening as they both have explicitly expressed their support for the process. "The European Parliament will reject any candidate for the presidency of the Commission who will not have been designated as Spitzenkandidat ahead of the elections of the European Parliament," said Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP group and the most likely to be designated as Spitzenkandidat for his party, a designation yet to be formalised on the 8th of November at the EPP’s congress in Helsinki[7].

The last characteristic of these 2019 elections is the rise of parties that have, until now, been a minority in Europe. Indeed, since the last elections, there has been a rise in populism in Member States, with the election of the Austrian Federal Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz (People's Party), for instance, or more recently in Italy with the progress of the League, a populist right party, which saw Matteo Salvini become Minister of the Interior and Vice-President of the Council of Ministers. This trend, reinforced by the current migration crisis in Europe, could eventually lead to the election of more Eurosceptics within the European Parliament itself.


The 2019 elections should therefore mark a particularly decisive turning point for the EU, which will, more than ever, have to reaffirm its legitimacy in the face of growing discordant voices.

[1] https://www.euractiv.com/section/elections/news/ep-votes-against-transnational-lists

[2] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/elections-press-kit/1/facts-and-figures-on-electoral-process

[3] Article 17 § 7 of the Treaty on the European Union starts off as follow: “Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament […], the European Council, […], shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission.”

[4] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20180202IPR97026/spitzenkandidaten-process-cannot-be-overturned-say-meps

[5] https://www.politico.eu/article/jean-claude-juncker-spitzenkandidat-eu-leaders-we-wont-be-bound-by-spitzenkandidat-process/

[6] https://www.politico.eu/article/spitzenkandidat-jean-claude-juncker-race-with-no-rules-eu-leaders-brace-for-clash-over-2019-elections/

[7] https://www.politico.eu/article/europes-conservative-non-choice-spitzenkandidat-manfred-weber-alexander-stubb-epp/

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