The next election to the European Parliament, the eighth contest since direct voting began in 1979, will take place over 22-25 May. This will be an important event in the history of the European Union. Many national elections in the past few years have witnessed governments ousted because of their handling of the economy and their support for austerity policies (namely in Greece and Cyprus, but also in France and Italy). However, this is the first time that citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinions in a ballot on the handling of the Eurozone debt crisis at the European as opposed to the national level.
Moreover, for the first time in its history, more than 400 million European citizens will have a chance to decide not only on the composition of the European Parliament, but also about who might become the chief of the European executive, the President of the European Commission. Even if the Commission’s role is said to be weaker than it was in the past, the incoming President will nonetheless play a key role in deciding the future direction of political and economic integration in the EU. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in late 2009, the European Council composed of the Heads of State and Government of the 28 member states now proposes a President of the Commission to the European Parliament, ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament’. For many this represents the first opportunity for a truly pan-European election.