The 2019 European Parliament election: a preview

Elections for the next European Parliament will be held across the European Union this week, with polling to take place between Thursday 23 and Sunday 26 May.

The vote will be the ninth in the parliament’s history and the first since 1994 to not have seen new members join the union during the previous five-year election cycle.

As the EU has continued to grow, the average turnout rate has decreased as many newer member states see fewer voters going to the polls. Slovakia, as seen in the infographic below, has had an average turnout of only 16.55% over three elections. This stands in contrast to Belgium, one of the five EU countries with compulsory voting, where mean participation across eight elections has been 90.84%.

Following the British government’s confirmation that the United Kingdom will take part in this year’s vote, a total of 751 MEPs will be initially appointed to parliament, including 73 British representatives. However, upon the UK’s eventual departure, 27 of these seats will be redistributed proportionately to current members bringing the total number of MEPs to 705. The remaining 46 seats have been set aside for allocation to future member states.

Voter sentiment

Beyond Brexit, the past five-year cycle has seen the EU confronted with the twin challenges of the 2015 migration crisis and a rise in populist sentiment across the continent.

Notably, Eurobarometer data has revealed immigration as the leading concern among 40% of voters ahead of this year’s election, followed by terrorism (20%) and public finances (19%) in second and third place respectively.

This represents a marked shift from the run-up to the 2014 election, during which time the wider economic outlook (45%), unemployment (36%) and the state of public finances (26%) had been at the forefront of voters’ concerns following the eurozone crisis and wider economic stagnation.

While economic concerns have subsided over the past five years, the percentage of respondents citing climate change as one of their top two issues has increased from 6% to 16%, making it the fifth most-pressing issue ahead of this year’s election.

Current projections

The current turbulence is expected to lead to a shakeup in returned MEPs. Latest projections before polling point to the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) losing as many as 37 of its current 217 seats, while the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) may be reduced to just 149 MEPs, having won 186 seats in 2014.

With increasing numbers of voters being drawn to fringe parties, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) groups are projected to pick up around 117 seats, while parliament is forecast to gain 62 MEPs not yet affiliated with existing groups.

With significant global shifts having taken place since the last election, the arithmetic of the new parliament will give a clear insight into the state of contemporary European politics.