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2019, election year in Switzerland – and the EU

The general election in Switzerland is not the only one to take place in 2019. Elections to the European Parliament, which take place every five years, are also taking place – sometime between 23 and 26 May, the exact date to be determined by each EU member state.

Even though Switzerland is not a member of the EU, the Confederation will be following the elections with great interest. The European Parliament, co-legislator of the EU, will play a decisive role in the development of the EU and the position it takes towards third countries such as Switzerland.

European elections – what are they all about?

Elections to the European Parliament will be held in the 27 member states of the European Union – no longer 28, assuming that the United Kingdom has left the Union by then. The members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens.

This is the ninth time that elections to the European Parliament have been held since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1979. Each state is free to choose its own system of voting, and so the rules and regulations differ from one country to another. In Austria, for example, the minimum voting age is 16.

How does the European Parliament operate?

The plenary chamber at the Louise Weiss building, the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, is impressive. There are now 751 MEPs, whose seats are allocated on the basis of the populations of each member state, and who are grouped not by nationality but by political affiliation – as is also the case in Switzerland.

And as in Switzerland, the European Parliament is a multilingual institution. However, unlike Switzerland, it is a professional parliament. Its plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg, and its working sessions are held in Strasbourg, Brussels or Luxembourg. Each member state has at least six and no more than 96 MEPs. In 2019 the number of seats available will be reduced from 751 to 705 as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. Germany will still have the most MEPs, followed by France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The smallest countries, such as Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta, bring up the rear. As it is not a member of the EU, Switzerland is not represented in the European Parliament.

The European Parliament’s powers were considerably extended by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. It now decides on almost all European legislation, as co-legislator with the European Council. The European Parliament also approves treaties with third states, along with the European Council, and draws up the EU budget. Lastly, it appoints the president of the European Commission on the recommendation of the Council, approves commissioners and has political oversight of the Commission’s work.

The third and final major EU institution is the European Commission, which is its executive body. Its current president is Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg; he has however announced that he will not be seeking a further term in 2019.
European Parliament