Reflections on the 2019 European parliamentary elections

With around 200 million people voting across Europe, the make-up of the new European Parliament for the next five years has been decided.

While the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won the most seats, its contingent is down on the previous election. The traditional centre-left grouping of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – which I was a member of – has also been squeezed by the rise of populist parties. Anti-establishment parties won close to a third of seats, including the Brexit Party in the UK, and they head to Brussels to be destructive, not constructive. 

But these parties are fragmented and will largely be snubbed by the majority of MEPs, meaning the Liberals and Greens elected will prove far more pivotal to Europe’s journey over the next five years. The two main groupings need to build coalitions, so horse-trading will be getting underway between pro-EU parties.

The European Parliament needs to elect a new President, who normally comes from the largest group, then there is the selection of Vice Presidents, Quaestors, chairs of committees and vice chairs of committees, which will be divided up between the political groups dependent on individual delegation size.

And what about the special candidate who leads the Commission? Will this happen like last time where the EPP with the largest number of elected MEPs got Jean Claude Juncker in for the top job? If history repeats itself that will be Manfred Weber, the German lead candidate, but opinions are split across Europe.

The Member States will also choose who will be the head of the Council. Unlike the Commission position, the head of the Council is picked by the heads of the Member States. It is unclear how long the UK’s MEPs will be sitting in the parliament, which means they’re unlikely to find themselves in the running for these key positions, diluting the country’s influence before – or if – Brexit takes place.

During the last parliamentary term, when I was an MEP for Scotland, much of my work was focused on proposed EU-wide copyright changes, and opposing what was originally known as Article 13 and later became Article 17. The changes are opposed by over five million people through a petition, but MEPs backed the changes earlier this year, as did the Council of the European Union – with six countries voting against: Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Finland and Sweden. Poland is now launching a legal challenge.

If implemented, the changes are expected to lead to the introduction of ‘filters’ on sites such as YouTube, which will automatically remove content that could be copyrighted. While entertainment footage is most likely to be affected, academics fear it could also restrict the sharing of knowledge, and critics argue it will have a negative impact on freedom of speech and expression online.

Despite the recent votes, this issue is likely to be a major issue for the new crop of MEPs, and the battle is not over. Green parties in particular have been vocal opponents of this crackdown, and they have been successful across Europe. 

The more diverse make-up of the European Parliament should allow more voices to be heard, and I hope many MEPs choose to champion openness over the next five years. That includes supporting improved transparency measures at social media companies like Facebook to prevent the spread of disinformation and fake news and backing efforts to force governments and organisations to use established and recognised open licences when releasing data or content.

Our mission is to create an open world, where all non-personal information is open, free for everyone to use, build on and share; and creators and innovators are fairly recognised and rewarded. I hope MEPs from across Europe will work with us to build a fair, free and open future.