National Press Club

EU Parliament's elections to feature US-style TV debates

February 11, 2014 | By Lorna Aldrich | lorna2@verizon.net

Jaume Duch Guillot, director of media and spokesperson for the European Parliament

Jaume Duch Guillot, director of media and spokesperson for the European Parliament

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Jaume Duch Guillot, director of media and spokesperson for the European Parliament, forecast at a Feb. 11 Newsmaker heightened public and media attention to May's elections of Parliament's members.

Guillot said the elections are the "second biggest election exercise in the world," behind India. In the past they have been a "kind of second class national election," but he anticipates a different situation this year.

For the first time, the Parliament, directly elected by voters in member states, will select the President of the European Commission, one of two heads of the executive branch of the European Union (EU) he said.

The other head, president of the European Council, is appointed by heads of governments. According to the Parliament's liaison office to the U.S. Congress, the two positions together are the EU equivalent to the U.S. presidency.

Leading up to the elections, European parties will choose candidates for the Commission presidency, who will campaign and debate on TV in the style of American presidential campaigns, Guillot said.

The spokesman believes that EU measures taken during recent economic and social crises have heightened Europeans' awareness of the importance of Parliament. He said that most of the decisions affecting the lives of citizens were taken by EU institutions rather than by national governments.

The current Parliament has passed 500 measures and still has 60 to 70 to consider, he said. He noted that between now and the election the Parliament will address a trade agreement with the U.S. and the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance of European communications.

He anticipates a "balanced" Parliament between center-right and center-left members, who together will comprise 70 to 80 percent of the members.

In the 2009 election of Parliament's members the turnout was 43 percent, which Guillot compared favorably with turnout for U.S. congressional elections. He anticipates a higher turnout in 2014.

Turnout varies by countries depending on their voting traditions, whether national and EU elections are held separately or simultaneously and whether voting is compulsory, he said.