European lawmakers have recommended holding the European elections on 22-25 May 2014, rather than June, to give the new Parliament time to prepare for the European Commission presidency election in July.
European political parties are confident that choosing a candidate for Commission president would herald stronger leadership in the European Union. Better name recognition and a strong political programme could fuel a more political campaign, they reckon.
Voter turnout in the 2009 European Parliament elections was 43%, the lowest since direct elections began in 1979.
Given falling turnout and spreading euroscepticism, experts say that legitimacy of the Parliament must be strengthened through higher voter participation.
MEPs have pushed for members of the next European Commission to be chosen among newly elected members of Parliament so as to give voters more say. National governments currently nominate Commission candidates.
The two big political families, the Party of European Socialists (PES) and the European Peoples’ Party (EPP), have already announced that they would elect a candidate for Commission president well ahead the European elections to mobilise voters.
“The nomination of presidential candidates will trigger a series of positive dynamics and will generate unprecedented public interest for the 2014 European elections," said Wilfried Martens, president of the European People’s Party (EPP). "If all the main European political parties commit to this process, we will surely make a significant contribution in the creation of a European public space.”
Late last year MEPs approved a proposal from the Commission which aimed to simplify procedures and amend existing rules to promote participation in the EU elections.
"Taking part in the European elections is one of the most important ways for citizens to make their voice heard in the EU," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner.
Greek MEP Marietta Giannakou (EPP), rapporteur for the resolution, said the new legislation would strengthen the involvement of citizens in EU affairs.
"For EU citizens, a European political party with a legal personality is a strong representative body of EU citizens' interests. Citizens can be more actively involved in political life. We are now starting the trilogue with the European Commission and the Council to have the new rules in force on time,” she said.
After consulting the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers will have to decide on the election dates by a unanimous vote. That is expected to take place in June.