What’s at Stake in the European Parliament Election That Concludes Sunday?

Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
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What’s at Stake in the European Parliament Election That Concludes Sunday?

Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)

Nearly 400 million European Union citizens have been going to polls this week to elect members of the European Parliament, or MEPs, in one of the biggest global democratic events.

Far-right parties are seeking to gain more power amid a rise in the cost of living and farmers' discontent, while the wars in Gaza and Ukraine stay on the minds of voters.

One of the biggest questions is whether European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will remain in charge as the public face of the EU.

Here is a look at the election and the biggest issues at stake:

WHEN IS THE VOTE? EU elections are held every five years across the 27-member bloc. This year marks the 10th parliamentary election since the first polls in 1979, and the first after Brexit.

The elections started Thursday in the Netherlands and finish on Sunday, when most countries hold their election. Initial results can only be revealed in the evening after polling stations have closed in all member states.

HOW DOES VOTING WORK? The voting is done by direct universal suffrage in a single ballot.

The number of members elected in each country depends on the size of the population. It ranges from six for Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus to 96 for Germany. In 2019, Europeans elected 751 lawmakers. Following the United Kingdom's departure from the EU in 2020, the number of MEPs fell to 705 with some of the 73 seats previously held by British MEPs redistributed to other member states.

After the election, the European Parliament will have 15 additional members, bringing the total to 720. Twelve countries will get extra MEPs.

National political parties contest elections, but once they are elected, most of the lawmakers then join transnational political groups.

WHO IS VOTING? The minimum voting age is 18 in most member states. Belgium lowered it to 16 in a law adopted in 2022. Germany, Malta and Austria are also permitting 16-year-olds to vote. In Greece, the youngest voting age is 17.

A minimum age is also required for candidates to stand for election — from 18 in most countries to 25 in Italy and Greece.

A resident of Magenta District holds his passport and voter card at a polling station during the vote for European Parliament election in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)

WHAT ABOUT TURNOUT? European Union elections usually don't bring a huge turnout, but there was a clear upturn in public interest in the 2019 election. At 50.7%, the turnout was eight points higher than in 2014 after steadily falling since 1979, when it reached 62%.

In April, the latest edition of the European Parliament’s Eurobarometer highlighted a surge of interest in the upcoming election. Around 71% of Europeans said they are likely to cast a ballot.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ISSUES? Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is at the forefront of citizens’ minds, with defense and security seen as key campaign issues. At the national level, the EU’s defense and security was mentioned first in nine countries.

The economy, jobs, poverty and social exclusion, public health, climate change and the future of Europe are also featuring prominently as issues.

WHAT DO EU LAWMAKERS DO? The European Parliament is the only EU institution to be elected by European citizens. It’s a real counterpower to the powerful EU’s executive arm, the European Commission.

The parliament doesn't have the initiative to propose legislation, but its powers are expanding. It is now competent on a wide range of topics, voting on laws relating to climate, banking rules, agriculture, fisheries, security or justice. The legislature also votes on the EU budget, which is crucial to the implementation of European policies, including, for instance, aid delivered to Ukraine.

Lawmakers are also a key element of the check and balances system since they need to approve the nomination of all EU commissioners, who are the equivalent of ministers. It can also force the whole commission to resign with a vote of a two-third majority.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her husband Heiko von der Leyen leave a polling station after voting during the European Parliament elections in Burgdorf near Hanover, Germany, June 9, 2024. (Reuters)

WHAT'S THE CURRENT MAKEUP OF THE PARLIAMENT? With 176 seats out of 705 as of the end of the last plenary session in April, the center-right European People's Party is the largest political group in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen is from the EPP and hopes to remain at the helm of the EU's executive arm after the election.

The second-largest group is the S&D, the political group of the center-left Party of European Socialists, which currently holds 139 seats. The pro-business liberal and pro-European Renew group holds 102 seats ahead of an alliance made up of green and regionalist political parties that holds 72 seats.

FAR RIGHT LOOKS TO MAKE GAINS Two groups with far-right parties, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), could be headed to becoming the third- and fourth-largest political groups at the European Parliament. The two groups have many divergences and it's unclear to what extent they could team up to affect the EU's agenda, especially the EU's efforts to support Ukraine against Russia in the war.

The EPP and S&D are expected to remain stable. Pro-business liberals and greens could both take a hit after they made big gains at the previous election.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE ELECTION? Once the weight of each political force is determined, MEPs will elect their president at the first plenary session, from July 16-19. Then, most likely in September after weeks of negotiations, they will nominate the president of the European Commission, following a proposal made by the member states.

In 2019, von der Leyen won a narrow majority (383 votes in favor, 327 against, 22 abstentions) to become the first woman to head the institution. Parliamentarians will also hear from the European commissioners before approving them in a single vote.

Von der Leyen has good chances to be appointed for another term, but she needs to secure the support of enough leaders. She has also antagonized many lawmakers by suggesting she could work with the hard right depending on the outcome of the elections.



Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
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Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)

Golden fields of wheat no longer produce the bounty they once did in Morocco. A six-year drought has imperiled the country's entire agriculture sector, including farmers who grow cereals and grains used to feed humans and livestock.

The North African nation projects this year's harvest will be smaller than last year in both volume and acreage, putting farmers out of work and requiring more imports and government subsidies to prevent the price of staples like flour from rising for everyday consumers.

"In the past, we used to have a bounty — a lot of wheat. But during the last seven or eight years, the harvest has been very low because of the drought," said Al Housni Belhoussni, a small-scale farmer who has long tilled fields outside of the city of Kenitra.

Belhoussni's plight is familiar to grain farmers throughout the world confronting a hotter and drier future. Climate change is imperiling the food supply and shrinking the annual yields of cereals that dominate diets around the world — wheat, rice, maize and barley.

In North Africa, among the regions thought of as most vulnerable to climate change, delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.

In Morocco, where cereals account for most of the farmed land and agriculture employs the majority of workers in rural regions, the drought is wreaking havoc and touching off major changes that will transform the makeup of the economy. It has forced some to leave their fields fallow. It has also made the areas they do elect to cultivate less productive, producing far fewer sacks of wheat to sell than they once did.

In response, the government has announced restrictions on water use in urban areas — including on public baths and car washes — and in rural ones, where water going to farms has been rationed.

"The late rains during the autumn season affected the agriculture campaign. This year, only the spring rains, especially during the month of March, managed to rescue the crops," said Abdelkrim Naaman, the chairman of Nalsya. The organization has advised farmers on seeding, irrigation and drought mitigation as less rain falls and less water flows through Morocco's rivers.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year's wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons (3.1 billion kilograms), far less than last year's 6.1 million tons (5.5 billion kilograms) — a yield that was still considered low. The amount of land seeded has dramatically shrunk as well, from 14,170 square miles (36,700 square kilometers) to 9,540 square miles (24,700 square kilometers).

Such a drop constitutes a crisis, said Driss Aissaoui, an analyst and former member of the Moroccan Ministry for Agriculture.

"When we say crisis, this means that you have to import more," he said. "We are in a country where drought has become a structural issue."

Leaning more on imports means the government will have to continue subsidizing prices to ensure households and livestock farmers can afford dietary staples for their families and flocks, said Rachid Benali, the chairman of the farming lobby COMADER.

The country imported nearly 2.5 million tons of common wheat between January and June. However, such a solution may have an expiration date, particularly because Morocco's primary source of wheat, France, is facing shrinking harvests as well.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Morocco as the world's sixth-largest wheat importer this year, between Türkiye and Bangladesh, which both have much bigger populations.

"Morocco has known droughts like this and in some cases known droughts that las longer than 10 years. But the problem, this time especially, is climate change," Benali said.