Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : What’s at Stake in the European Parliament Election That Concludes Sunday?

Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
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What’s at Stake in the European Parliament Election That Concludes Sunday?

Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
Ballots are set up on a table for the European Parliament election at a polling station in Madrid, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)

Nearly 400 million European Union citizens have been going to polls this week to elect members of the European Parliament, or MEPs, in one of the biggest global democratic events.

Far-right parties are seeking to gain more power amid a rise in the cost of living and farmers' discontent, while the wars in Gaza and Ukraine stay on the minds of voters.

One of the biggest questions is whether European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will remain in charge as the public face of the EU.

Here is a look at the election and the biggest issues at stake:

WHEN IS THE VOTE? EU elections are held every five years across the 27-member bloc. This year marks the 10th parliamentary election since the first polls in 1979, and the first after Brexit.

The elections started Thursday in the Netherlands and finish on Sunday, when most countries hold their election. Initial results can only be revealed in the evening after polling stations have closed in all member states.

HOW DOES VOTING WORK? The voting is done by direct universal suffrage in a single ballot.

The number of members elected in each country depends on the size of the population. It ranges from six for Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus to 96 for Germany. In 2019, Europeans elected 751 lawmakers. Following the United Kingdom's departure from the EU in 2020, the number of MEPs fell to 705 with some of the 73 seats previously held by British MEPs redistributed to other member states.

After the election, the European Parliament will have 15 additional members, bringing the total to 720. Twelve countries will get extra MEPs.

National political parties contest elections, but once they are elected, most of the lawmakers then join transnational political groups.

WHO IS VOTING? The minimum voting age is 18 in most member states. Belgium lowered it to 16 in a law adopted in 2022. Germany, Malta and Austria are also permitting 16-year-olds to vote. In Greece, the youngest voting age is 17.

A minimum age is also required for candidates to stand for election — from 18 in most countries to 25 in Italy and Greece.

A resident of Magenta District holds his passport and voter card at a polling station during the vote for European Parliament election in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)

WHAT ABOUT TURNOUT? European Union elections usually don't bring a huge turnout, but there was a clear upturn in public interest in the 2019 election. At 50.7%, the turnout was eight points higher than in 2014 after steadily falling since 1979, when it reached 62%.

In April, the latest edition of the European Parliament’s Eurobarometer highlighted a surge of interest in the upcoming election. Around 71% of Europeans said they are likely to cast a ballot.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ISSUES? Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is at the forefront of citizens’ minds, with defense and security seen as key campaign issues. At the national level, the EU’s defense and security was mentioned first in nine countries.

The economy, jobs, poverty and social exclusion, public health, climate change and the future of Europe are also featuring prominently as issues.

WHAT DO EU LAWMAKERS DO? The European Parliament is the only EU institution to be elected by European citizens. It’s a real counterpower to the powerful EU’s executive arm, the European Commission.

The parliament doesn't have the initiative to propose legislation, but its powers are expanding. It is now competent on a wide range of topics, voting on laws relating to climate, banking rules, agriculture, fisheries, security or justice. The legislature also votes on the EU budget, which is crucial to the implementation of European policies, including, for instance, aid delivered to Ukraine.

Lawmakers are also a key element of the check and balances system since they need to approve the nomination of all EU commissioners, who are the equivalent of ministers. It can also force the whole commission to resign with a vote of a two-third majority.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her husband Heiko von der Leyen leave a polling station after voting during the European Parliament elections in Burgdorf near Hanover, Germany, June 9, 2024. (Reuters)

WHAT'S THE CURRENT MAKEUP OF THE PARLIAMENT? With 176 seats out of 705 as of the end of the last plenary session in April, the center-right European People's Party is the largest political group in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen is from the EPP and hopes to remain at the helm of the EU's executive arm after the election.

The second-largest group is the S&D, the political group of the center-left Party of European Socialists, which currently holds 139 seats. The pro-business liberal and pro-European Renew group holds 102 seats ahead of an alliance made up of green and regionalist political parties that holds 72 seats.

FAR RIGHT LOOKS TO MAKE GAINS Two groups with far-right parties, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), could be headed to becoming the third- and fourth-largest political groups at the European Parliament. The two groups have many divergences and it's unclear to what extent they could team up to affect the EU's agenda, especially the EU's efforts to support Ukraine against Russia in the war.

The EPP and S&D are expected to remain stable. Pro-business liberals and greens could both take a hit after they made big gains at the previous election.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE ELECTION? Once the weight of each political force is determined, MEPs will elect their president at the first plenary session, from July 16-19. Then, most likely in September after weeks of negotiations, they will nominate the president of the European Commission, following a proposal made by the member states.

In 2019, von der Leyen won a narrow majority (383 votes in favor, 327 against, 22 abstentions) to become the first woman to head the institution. Parliamentarians will also hear from the European commissioners before approving them in a single vote.

Von der Leyen has good chances to be appointed for another term, but she needs to secure the support of enough leaders. She has also antagonized many lawmakers by suggesting she could work with the hard right depending on the outcome of the elections.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)

Former President Donald Trump on Monday chose US Sen. JD Vance of Ohio to be his running mate as he looks to return to the White House.

Here are some things to know about Vance, a 39-year-old Republican now in his first term in the Senate:

Vance rose to prominence with his memoir

Vance was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio. He joined the Marines and served in Iraq, and later earned degrees from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. He also worked as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.

Vance made a name for himself with his memoir, the 2016 bestseller "Hillbilly Elegy," which was published as Trump was first running for president. The book earned Vance a reputation as someone who could help explain the maverick New York businessman’s appeal in middle America, especially among the working class, rural white voters who helped Trump win the presidency.

"Hillbilly Elegy" also introduced Vance to the Trump family. Donald Trump Jr. loved the book and knew of Vance when he went to launch his political career. The two hit it off and have remained friends.

He was first elected to public office in 2022

After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Vance returned to his native Ohio and set up an anti-opioid charity. He also took to the lecture circuit and was a favored guest at Republican Lincoln Day dinners where his personal story — including the hardship Vance endured because of his mother’s drug addiction — resonated.

Vance's appearances were opportunities to sell his ideas for fixing the country and helped lay the groundwork for entering politics in 2021, when he sought the Senate seat vacated by Republican Rob Portman, who retired.

Trump endorsed Vance. Vance went on to win a crowded Republican primary and the general election.

He and Trump have personal chemistry

Personal relationships are extremely important to the former president and he and Vance have developed a strong rapport over years, speaking on the phone regularly.

Trump has also complimented Vance’s beard, saying he "looks like a young Abraham Lincoln."

Vance went from never-Trumper to fierce ally

Vance was a "never Trump" Republican in 2016. He called Trump "dangerous" and "unfit" for office. Vance, whose wife, lawyer Usha Chilukuri Vance, is Indian American and the mother of their three children, also criticized Trump’s racist rhetoric, saying he could be "America’s Hitler."

But by the time Vance met Trump in 2021, he had reversed his opinion, citing Trump’s accomplishments as president. Both men downplayed Vance's past scathing criticism.

Once elected, Vance became a fierce Trump ally on Capitol Hill, unceasingly defending Trump’s policies and behavior.

He is a leading conservative voice

Kevin Roberts, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, called Vance a leading voice for the conservative movement, on key issues including a shift away from interventionist foreign policy, free market economics and "American culture writ large."

Democrats call him an extremist, citing provocative positions Vance has taken but sometimes later amended. Vance signaled support for a national 15-week abortion ban during his Senate run, for instance, then softened that stance once Ohio voters overwhelmingly backed a 2023 abortion rights amendment.

Vance has adopted Trump's rhetoric about Jan. 6

On the 2020 election, he said he wouldn't have certified the results immediately if he had been vice president and said Trump had "a very legitimate grievance." He has put conditions on honoring the results of the 2024 election that echo Trump's. A litany of government and outside investigations have not found any election fraud that could have swung the outcome of Trump's 2020 loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.

In the Senate, Vance sometimes embraces bipartisanship. He and Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown co-sponsored a railway safety bill following a fiery train derailment in the Ohio village of East Palestine. He's sponsored legislation extending and increasing funding for Great Lakes restoration, and supported bipartisan legislation boosting workers and families.

Vance can articulate Trump's vision

People familiar with the vice presidential vetting process said Vance would bring to the GOP ticket debating skills and the ability to articulate Trump’s vision.

Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative activist group Turning Point USA, said Vance compellingly articulates the America First world view and could help Trump in states he closely lost in 2020, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, that share Ohio’s values, demographics and economy.