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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 17 May 2019 Related reading: Global News Roundup: April 12–19, 2021


Greetings from Brussels!

Voters across the EU will go to the polls next week to elect 751 MEPs to the European Parliament. For the record, the Parliament represents more than 510 million EU citizens from the 28 member state countries. Factually, about 400 million people are eligible to vote in this month's elections, making it one of the biggest democratic elections in the world. For comparison, it is bigger than the U.S. presidential elections, but conversely, nowhere close to India’s elections, which are the world’s biggest.

So why are the European parliamentary elections important? The European Parliament is the only directly elected EU institution through the system of proportional representation; seats are awarded to parties in direct proportion to their share of the vote. Potentially, the most influential of the institutions, the MEPs and their committees work closely together with the national member state governments that make up the EU Council. Together, these two institutions collectively make up the main decision-making body of the EU.

The newly elected MEPs will serve a five-year term, effectively bringing about a wholesale change on the European landscape. Their outcome and the political balance will be all important in approving a new European Commission, which is composed of the College of Commissioners and includes the president and vice president(s). The current commission's term of office under the Juncker presidency runs until 31 Oct. The newly elected Parliament will need to approve a proposed new College of Commissioners in due course, before it is finally appointed by the EU Council by qualified majority: at least 55% of members (16 out of 28 states), representing at least 65% of the EU population. The election outcome and political orientation of the Parliament will, therefore, have a direct bearing on the European Commission composition process.

It is hard to tell how the elections will turn out with the recent waves of nationalist-populist sentiment in some member states. In recent years, anti-EU politicians – “Eurosceptics” on both the fringe left and right – have gained ground, although they are unlikely to gain a significant majority in this year’s elections. However, voters are expected to return a more fragmented Parliament with a slimmed-down pro-EU vote. This view is also supported by the Parliament’s Public Opinion Monitoring Unit. Currently, the EEP — the European People’s Party — which groups together the center-right and conservative parties of Europe, has had a meaningful majority in the Parliament for more than 20 years. They are expected to lose seats this time around and will be weakened. The other mainstream political party in the Parliament, the Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, is also expected to take a hit. This, in many respects, reflects the pulse of national politics across member states, including countries such as France, Italy and Spain, where the traditional parties — both on the left and right of the political spectrum — are being squeezed by alternative political voices. Other political groupings, such as ALDE — the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats — and the Greens, are expected to make some gains.

With the entry in force of the GDPR, some changes regarding the field of political communication have been introduced, notably in strengthening the protection afforded the rights of EU citizens. The CNIL published a useful guide on the subject with three fact sheets on voter rights, political communications by email, and by phone.

Big week ahead, and yes, I am voting for Europe next Sunday here in Brussels.


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