Parliamentary Elections

May​ 23-26, 2019


  • The European Parliament (EP) is the only transnationally elected parliament in the world with legislative and budgetary powers; it has members from the 28 EU member states.
  • ​The 751 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected every 5 years through a proportional system (party list or ranked voting) from national parties. They elect a president for each term.
  • The EP is one of the three main decision-making bodies in the European Union, alongside the Council of the European Union (ministers of the 28 countries who meet based on their respective portfolios) and the European Commission (the “executive” arm, it proposes legislation and implements EU policies and laws).
  • ​Since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in 2009, the EP’s powers have expanded:
    • The parliament passes laws on an equal footing with the Council in most policy areas;
    • It ratifies international agreements and treaties negotiated by the Commission;
    • It can amend, adopt, or reject the budgets proposed by the Commission and it has budgetary control over EU institutions and programs;
    • It confirms the Commission President (usually nominated based on elections results) and confirms the 27 other Commissioners (each representing an issue area and hailing from each of the member states);
    • ​It can issue non-binding recommendations on foreign policy (Common Security and Defense Policy) and consults with and receives information from the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
  • MEPs group themselves by political ideology rather than national affiliation. It takes 20 MEPs from 6 countries to form a political group, which gives them access to dedicated resources.
  • ​There are currently 8 political groups and one group of non-affiliated MEPs (see below);
    • The center-left (S&D) and the center-right (EPP) groups have dominated the EP for decades, but this could change after this election;
    • Different groups may align differently according to the issues and parties can transcend traditional alliances.

Current Political Groups

The groups are subject to change based on the electoral results and the parties’ decision to ally with others.

  • European People’s Party (EPP) : center-right, Christian democrats, pro-EU; EPP candidate for Commission president (“Spitzenkandidat”) is German MEP Manfred Weber; the group contains Angela Merkel’s (and Weber’s) CDU/CSU, Ireland’s Fine Gael, and Viktor Orban’s Fidesz (though currently suspended) among others; there are 9 EPP representatives in the European Council( a body consisting of the 28 heads of state or government.)
  • Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) : center-left, social democracy, pro-EU with a focus on social issues; its Spitzenkandidat is current Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans; group contains the UK’s Labour Party and Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party among others; there are 5 S&D representatives in the European Council.
  • Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) : centrist, liberal, pro-EU, supports greater European integration, more market liberalization; has not named one Spitzenkandidat but a team of 8 potential candidates; group contains the Czech Republic’s ANO 2011 (prime minister Andrej Babis’s party) and Estonia’s Centre Party; ALDE will likely ally with French President Emmanuel Macron’s party La Republique en Marche; 8 representatives in Council.
  • European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) : right to far-right, Christian democracy, Euroskeptic, seeks to return power to the nation and away from EU institutions; group contains the UK’s Conservative Party, Sweden’s Swedish Democrats, and Poland’s Law and Justice; 2 representatives in the European Council.
  • Greens/European Free Alliance (G/EFA) : enter-left, progressive, climate advocacy, pro-EU, seeks further European integration; group contains Germany’s Green party and regional parties like the Scottish National Party; no representation in the European Council.
  • European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) : left to far-left, socialism, Euroskepticism but seeks a different form of EU rather than abolishing it; anti-NATO; group contains Greece’s Syriza (prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s party) and Ireland’s Sinn Fein; 1 representative in the European Council.
  • Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) : far-right, nationalistic, populist, anti-immigration, highly Euroskeptic, supports sovereign rights for nations; group contains France’s National Rally (Marine Le Pen’s party) and Austria’s Freedom Party; no representation in the European Council.
  • Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) : catch-all populist grouping, opposed to EU integration; group contains the UK’s Brexit Party (Nigel Farage), Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD), and Italy’s Five Star Movement; no representation in Council.

Impact on U.S. Interests

  • The transatlantic economy is the world’s largest market and represents one third of global GDP; it generates $5.5 trillion in commercial sales every year. In 2018, European FDI flows into the U.S. reached $136 billion, or 60% of global FDI flows into the U.S. Companies on both sides of the Atlantic directly employ close to 10 million people (including foreign affiliates), and U.S. exports of services to Europe were worth $298 billion in 2017. The U.S. had a trade surplus in services of $66 billion that year.
  • ​The EP ratifies trade agreements negotiated by the Commission, and as such can approve or reject a future US-EU trade agreement. The EP also passes laws on data protection and privacy, some of which are at odds with the U.S. approach.
  • The European Parliament approves the EU budget and thus has influence over how much money is allocated to issues of foreign and security interest to the United States. The EU is world’s largest provider of overseas development assistance, and the planned European Defence Fund could improve things like military mobility across Europe, which supports NATO goals.
  • ​Political instability, a prolonged leadership transition, and fragmentation in the EP can weaken the EU against Russian malign influence and a growing Chinese economic presence, both of which reduce the United States’s ability to advance its interests in Europe.

Key Issues to Watch

  • Political fragmentation across member states will likely reduce the number of seats for the two biggest political groups, EPP and S&D, and require larger, more complex coalitions to pass key policies (e.g., an EPP-S&D-ALDE alliance). Many voters are seeking an alternative to traditional center-left or -right forces; the election will likely see growth for centrist voices (ALDE and pro-EU Greens) as well as populist forces such as France’s National Rally or Italy’s League party for Euroskeptic voters.
  • New political groupings will likely be formed, such as the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations, which would bring together nationalist parties from Finland, Denmark, Germany, and Italy. This will affect the configuration of the EP and voting majorities on some key issues. However, with the example of Brexit, several Euroskeptic parties have shifted their strategy from trying to leave the EU to attempting to change it from within.
  • Turnout will impact the strength of pro-EU voices (lower turnout can boost anti-EU forces); typically, turnout for EP elections can be quite low and this can amplify local and national protest votes. And though public support for the EU is at a ten-year high, many voters still remain undecided and are looking for some kind of political change.
  • ​Election results could offer important electoral clues in national elections due to be held later in 2019 and beyond (e.g., Greece or Poland). The results could also roil some national governments if their governing party does poorly. This will be especially true of the United Kingdom, which is unexpectedly participating in the EP elections after the Brexit process was delayed.


Data source: Politico EU

Data source: Politico EU. 2019 data is a projection.

ALDE data for 2019 assumes an alliance with Macron’s La République En Marche.
ENF data for 2019 includes Matteo Salvini’s party and assumes MEPs from parties that are allied with his will join ENF, leaving ECR and EFDD.
EFDD data for 2019 assumed all members will move to other groups or NI/Unaffiliated.