With Brexit still in limbo and the far-right surging across the continent, the new European Parliament could look very different than its predecessors.

Millions of voters will go to the polls to vote for a new European Parliament, in a continent increasingly riven with nationalist, eurosceptic, and xenophobic parties. 

The ongoing Brexit saga has also significantly impacted the EU project with many of the bloc’s proponents on the back foot, trying to defend the project. 

The complexity of the European Union, a feature of the bloc, has also made it difficult to sell to suspicious voters.   

What makes this vote different from previous parliamentary elections is the surge in the far-right’s popularity. 

In several EU countries, nationalist parties have become entrenched, and should they make a breakthrough into the EU parliament, they could further deepen the uncertainty around the viability of the project.

When will the vote happen?

Elections will be held between May 23 and 26. The UK and the Netherlands will vote on Thursday 23, Ireland the following day. Voters in Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Malta on May 25, and the remaining 21 EU countries on May 26. 

Results will be announced after the last polling station has closed on the continent.

How many seats?

The EU parliament has 751 seats. If the UK had left the EU bloc as planned on March 29, the EU parliament agreed to reduce the number of seats to 705.

The parliament is the bloc’s only directly elected body, with the seats divided amongst the EU countries based on population. Germany has the most seats, with 96 and Malta has the least with six – the minimum each country gets.

What powers does the parliament have?

Unlike regular parliaments, the European Parliament doesn't actually initiate legislation. The powerful, unelected European Commission is in charge of that. The parliament, however, does need to rubber stamp the laws, the EU budget, and trade deals.

What will the turnout be like? 

The EU is complicated by design. Many voters see the parliament as toothless and unable to truly exercise authority, which is an odd paradox for the body because increasingly as the body has gained more powers, voters have switched off in greater numbers. 

Since the first direct elections were held in 1979, voter turnout has been on a sharp and inexorable decline. At the last election in 2014, turnout stood at 42.6 percent, down from 62 percent. 

Slovakia, which joined the EU on May 1, 2004 has the lowest turnout rate at just 13 percent. Most people see the EU as distant to their lives.

Who are the main parties in the current EU parliament?

Once elected nearly all parliamentary members organise around pan-European groups. For members to create such a group, they need to have at least 25 members from seven different member states.  

There are currently eight political groups in the EU parliament. 

The centre-right European People's Party, the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, and the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe are the dominant parties in the outgoing parliament.  

The grouping has dominated the EU parliament since its founding in a grand coalition and controls 471 seats. For the first time since its founding, the grand coalition is set to lose its majority

There could also be the formation of a new nationalist grouping headed by the Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, from Italy’s Northern League party. The grouping will be called the European Alliance for People and Nations (EAPN), and it could be a significant force in the parliament.

Who are the candidates set to replace the European Commission president?

The current European Commission president is Jean-Claude Juncker, who has been serving since 2014. 

There are currently eight candidates to succeed Juncker for European commissioner. The main candidate for the centre-right is Manfred Weber, and Frans Timmermans is representing the centre-left. The one that succeeds will need to command 353 MEPs, a majority, and their appointment needs to be approved by the heads of governments from the respective states. 

What about the far-right nationalist parties? 

The EU elite has struggled to respond to a wave of challenges that has faced the EU since the 2009 financial crises. 

One such challenge has been from populist and far-right nationalist parties that have surged in light of increasing migration into the EU, faltering economic growth and a sense of identity loss. Nationalist parties have capitalised on such sentiment to great effect. 

They may not win enough seats to be part of the governing coalition, but there could be enough of them to make life difficult inside the EU parliament. 

Why is the UK still participating in the EU elections? 

The deadline for the UK leaving the EU was March 29. The UK government, however, has found it challenging to convince parliament to back the agreement reached with the EU. As a result, the UK will be participating in the parliamentary elections. 

Current polls suggest that the Brexit party, which is led by Nigel Farage and whose sole goal is to get the UK out of the EU, is leading the polls.

Source: TRT World