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Elections 2009

1. Background

Background Elections 2009 Challenges European Parliament European parties

“For much of its life, the European Parliament could have been justly labelled a ‘multi-lingual talking shop’. But this is no longer the case: the EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world both in terms of its legislative and executive oversight powers.” Professor David Farrell, Head of the School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester

The European Parliament (EP) is the only EU institution directly elected to represent the interests and democratic will of some 500 million Europeans. Thus, it functions strictly on a European mandate. Its origins lie in the early 1950s and the founding treaties of the European Communities.

Since 1979, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been chosen by direct elections, held every five years. The current Parliament has 785 MEPs from 27 member states. They play a crucial part in drafting laws that affect the daily life of every EU citizen.

Since the first direct elections thirty years ago, the powers of the EP have extensively grown. Today, roughly 75% of a member country’s new legislation comes through the EP first.

Despite the direct vote, the Parliament’s increasing influence and the efforts to engage European citizens in European politics, voter turnout has fallen throughout the Parliament’s existence, causing concern for all EU institutions and the member states. While voter turnout reached 63% in 1979, less than a half (45.6%) of the European voters turned up at the polls in 2004.

The European Parliament’s main seat is in Strasbourg, on the border between France and Germany. The location has symbolized reconciliation in Europe after two world wars. The Parliament holds 12 plenary sessions every year in Strasbourg. Its committees meet in Brussels, where additional plenary sessions are also held. MEPs have offices in both cities.

Debates in the Parliament chamber are conducted in all the EU’s 23 official languages, reflecting the commitment to a multicultural Union.

Key dates

  • 10 Sept. 1952: First sitting of the European Parliament (then a consultative assembly of 78 national parlamentarians, no legislative powers)
  • June 1979: First direct elections
  • 1981: First by-election held in Greece
  • 1984: EC-10 elections
  • 1987: By-election in Portugal and Spain
  • 1989: EC 12 elections
  • 1992: Maastricht Treaty establishes the European Union
  • 1994: EU-12 elections
  • 1995: By-election in Austria, Finland, Sweden
  • 1999: EU-15 elections
  • 2004: EU-25 elections
  • 2007: By-election in Bulgaria and Romania
  • June 2009: EU-27 elections
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