MEPs urged EU political parties to propose candidates to succeed Commission President José Manuel Barroso, in a bid to give voters a bigger say over who becomes the top EU executive. They also voted to move the poll from June to May so that they have time to prepare for the presidential election in July 2014.
MEPs easily approved a resolution pushing for a more political campaign ahead of the European elections and moving the date to either 15-18 May or 22-25 May 2014. The vote was 316 in favour, with 90 voting against and 20 MEPs abstaining.
The change would allow MEPs to elect the new head of the European Commission before the summer break and hold the hearings for new commissioners in the autumn.
The next Commission is due to take office on 1 November 2014.
Better name recognition
The nomination of party candidates will boost the name recognition and the programme led by each political camp, lawmakers say.
“Success will be measured in how the personalisation and dramatisation of the election campaign captures the public imagination: fuelling debate about serious issues in front of the next Parliament such as the character of the Commission, the pace and depth of integration, the size and shape of the budget, and the size, indeed, of Union membership." said liberal MEP Andrew Duff.
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 Barroso’s job 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.”
Slump in voter turnout
Voter turnout in the European Parliament elections was 43% in 2009, the lowest since direct elections began in 1979.
"Given falling turnout in successive European elections and spreading Euroscepticism, it is essential that the legitimacy of the Parliament is strengthened by higher voter participation," said liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt.
MEPs also urged that members of the next European Commission should be chosen among newly elected members of Parliament so as to give voters more say, says the text. National governments currently nominate Commission candidates.
The resolution also urged member states to propose two candidates, a man and a woman, for each Commissioner post, to ensure gender equality.
In the last elections, a few countries and political parties introduced so-called zip lists, alternating women and men equally.
Earlier this week, the European Parliament passed a draft law voted to facilitate arrangements for EU citizens residing in a country other than their own to vote and to stand as a candidate.
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.