Your vote in the European elections: why it really matters

The more people turn out to vote, the stronger European democracy becomes, the Head of the European Parliament’s Office in Valletta tells The Journal.

“Many of us still don’t realise how much the European Union influences our everyday lives and, therefore, how important it is to go to the polls next June to choose those who will represent us in the next European Parliament,” says Mario Sammut, Head of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office (EPLO) in Valletta.

In a conversation with The Journal on the margins of the European Parliament’s March plenary session in Strasbourg, Dr Sammut shared his views on why voting in the European elections really matters.

Dr Mario Sammut, Head of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office in Valletta.

Almost 450 million Europeans are being called to the polls between the 6th and the 9th of June to elect 720 politicians to the European Parliament. In Malta, the election will be held on Saturday, 8th June. Being the smalles country in the bloc, Malta will elect the minimum number of seats allocated to a member state: six.

The distribution of seats in the European Parliament takes into account the member states’ population size as well as the need for a minimum level of representation for European citizens from smaller countries. This principle of “degressive proportionality”, which is enshrined in the Treaty on the European Union, means that while smaller countries have fewer MEPs than bigger countries, MEPs from larger countries represent more people than their counterparts from smaller countries.

Dr Sammut noted that, these days, more Maltese laws originate from Brussels than are created in Malta itself. These EU laws are then either directly applied or transposed into Maltese law. European legislation tackles many of the key challenges facing Europeans today, like environmental protection, security threats, migration, social justice, consumer rights, economic growth, and upholding the rule of law. As co-legislator together with the Council, the European Parliament therefore adopts laws that affect everyone within the EU.

“Our vote will decide who will represent us in preparing new laws and influencing the election of the new European Commission. These decisions will shape our daily life and that of many others,” says Mario Sammut. “If we stay at home, we will be allowing others to choose on our behalf.”

The Head of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office in Malta recalled how, after World War II, the European project has ushered in an era of democracy, peace, and posperity. This achievement, however, must never be taken for granted and it is our collective responsibility to participate in the upcoming election for the only EU institution that represents EU citizens. The more people turn out to vote, the stronger European democracy becomes, he said.

The European Parliament’s building in Strasbourg.

When questioned about the national focus of election campaigns in member states, he countered that every significant national concern also has a European dimension. Similarly, European issues have national implications. This holds true across the whole European Union. Yet, he calls on voters to see the bigger picture and understand the significance of June’s European elections: “These elections are about choosing representatives who will address, from within the European Parliament, the issues important to our communities. Who you vote for is entirely up to you, but do exercise you right to take part in this key democratic event.”

The important role of our MEPs

Mario Sammut remarked that, though Malta’s delegation will be just six MEPs strong in a Parliament of 720, each member plays a vital role in advancing the interests of both their Maltese voters and the wider European community. He applauded the achievements of Malta’s current MEPs, and expressed optimism for Malta’s representation in the coming legislative term. “All of our current MEPs have been entrusted to work on important files, and have managed to win the respect of their peers,” he said.

To better understand the MEP’s important role, it helps to have an overview of the European Parliament’s three main functions:

1. LEGISLATIVE

– Passing EU laws, together with the Council of the EU, based on European Commission proposals

– Deciding on international agreements

– Deciding on EU enlargements

– Reviewing the Commission’s work programme and asking it to propose legislation

2. SUPERVISORY

– Democratic scrutiny of all EU institutions

– Electing the European Commission President and approving the Commission as a body. Possibility of voting a motion of censure, obliging the Commission to resign

– Granting discharge, i.e. approving the way EU budgets have been spent

– Examining citizens’ petitions and setting up inquiries

– Discussing monetary policy with the European Central Bank

– Questioning the European Commission and the European Council

– Election observations in third countries

3. BUDGETARY

– Establishing the EU budget, together with the Council

– Approving the EU’s long-term budget, the “Multi-annual Financial Framework”

Parliament’s work comprises two main stages:

1. COMMITTEES – to prepare legislation

The Parliament numbers 20 committees and three subcommittees, each handling a particular policy area. The committees examine proposals for legislation, and MEPs and political groups can put forward amendments or propose to reject a bill. These issues are also debated within the political groups.

Members of the Budget committee (BUDG) of the European Parliament adopting their position on the EU long-term budget revision last September.

2. PLENARY SESSIONS – to pass legislation.

This is when all the MEPs gather in the chamber to give a final vote on the proposed legislation and the proposed amendments. Normally held in Strasbourg for four days a month, but sometimes there are additional sessions in Brussels. There are two remaining plenaries for the current term: a mini-session in Brussels on the 10th and 11th April, and a plenary session in Strasbourg from the 22nd till the 25th April.

A European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg.

The role of the European Parliament’s Office in Malta

The European Parliament’s Liaison Office (EPLO) in Valletta operates from Europe House, in St Paul’s Street – a building that it shares with the European Commission Representation in Malta.

The European Parliament has liaison offices in all the EU member states’ capitals as well as regional offices in the five most populous Member States, as well as two offices outside the EU (in London and Washington).

EPLOs are responsible for the local implementation of institutional communication activities, with the ultimate goal of enhancing people’s awareness of the impact of the European Parliament on their daily lives and promoting their engagement in the European democratic process.

Although the Malta EPLO office has only six employees total, it tackles a workload comparable to its larger counterparts. This efficiency allows them to achieve significant results, exceeding expectations for such a small team.

Europe House in Valletta.

Discussing the Valletta EPLO’s campaign in light of the upcoming June elections, the office Head highlights their efforts in educating the public. They’ve been explaining the positive impact of the EU over the years and underlining the importance of maintaining a democratic EU.

Up till the end of the last plenary session next month, the EPLO in Malta will continue to inform the public about the work that Malta’s MEPs have been doing over the term that is now coming to a close. After that, the Office will continue to focus its message on the value if democracy in Europe and the importance of participating in the election.

“It is not our role to convey the individual parties or candidates’ messages,” Mario Sammut explained. “Who to vote for is a decision to be taken by the individual voters. What we will continue explaining is why voting matters.”

Last weekend the EPLO in Malta held a theatre performance focusing on our individual Maltese identity as well as our collective European one.

The EPLO’s election campaign is in full swing across Malta, with their message plastered on billboards, pulsing through social media, and displayed on buses and bus shelters. The campaign extends beyond traditional advertising, with two programmes commissioned to update the public about EU-related affairs while MEPs are given the opportunity to talk about their work. These are Dot EU, a weekly 10-minute roundup aired every Wednesday at 5.45pm on TVMnews+, and Dinja Ewropa, which is broadcast on Thursdays at 3pm on newsbook.com.mt and repeated on Fridays at 1.30pm on RTK103. The European Parliament also gives media grants with full editorial freedom to media outlets, following a competition, to inform EU citizens about its work.

Moreover, there are grants that the European Parliament has provided to organisations such as the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, the Gozo Business Chamber, and the Young European Federalists (JEF) Malta to organise a series of debates in the run up to the elections. The EPLO in Valletta ensures these events are politically neutral, offering a fair platform to all candidates.

Roberta Metsola’s dual role

Asked about how his office manages to differentiate between Roberta Metsola’s role as European Parliament President on the one hand and that as a Nationalist Party candidate on the other, Mario Sammut replied that the EPLO in Valletta only assists her whenever she participates in events in Malta in her capacity as the institutions’ President. The EPLO also offers support to all incumbent MEPs.

Encouraging participation

As the clock ticks, the Head of the EPLO in Valletta invites the public to visit the portal together.eu, a project run by the European Parliament, dedicated to getting as many people as possible involved in the democratic life of Europe and, in particular, to getting out the vote in June’s European elections. To do this, the portal connects people both locally and across Europe to meet, share knowledge, learn new skills and to bring the European Parliament’s message to the communities. Since its launch in 2019, the portal has become a vibrant, connected, and growing community working to further European democracy and to do its part to encourage others to vote.

Reiterating his call to all eligible voters to be part of the decision on the EU’s future direction, Mario Sammut urges voters to get to know the candidates, their visions, and their policy priorities.

“In a world defined by complexity, instability, and interdependence, the EU grapples with global issues that necessitate a collective approach from its member states and its citizens,” he said. “The current challenges are daunting, but our vote is our power to help shape the future.”

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