The first direct elections to the European Parliament were held 40 years ago on 12 June 1979. This year’s elections may be the most important in Parliament’s history, given the political context, the departure of the United Kingdom and major political and cross-border challenges that need to be addressed. Voters will be going to the polls between 23 - 26 May to decide Europe’s future.
In Latvia, 16 parties will contest the elections and 246 individuals will have a theoretical chance of a seat in Brussels (subject to checks on eligibility by CVK which could reduce that number). Latvia has just eight mandates in the European parliament, so the number of candidates with a realistic prospect of being elected is fairly small, in most cases limited to the first few candidates on a party list.
Seats will be distributed to parties on a proportional representation basis, so support of around 12.5% of votes case is enough to win a seat.
More than two thirds of candidates are male (69.5%) and just 30.5% female. At last October's Saeima elections, the equivalent figures were 68.2% and 31.8%.
The average age of a European election candidate is 48.8 years and interestingly, the lists include 2 U.S. citizens, 1 Canadian, 1 German and 1 Spanish citizen.
So which names are in the frame? Here is a roundup of all the parties that will be running, with information about some of the more notable candidates.
The Saeima Parties
The most recent public vote in Latvia, saw seven parties returned to the national parliament, the Saeima, following parliamentary elections last October, so these might also be regarded as the main contenders for the eight seats Latvia is entitled to in the European parliament.
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Lead candidate: Ivars Ijabs is a well-respected political scientist and academic, generally regarded as one of the smartest people in the country and certainly one of the most knowledgeable on the subject of political history and systems of power. His publications include a very readable introduction to political theory.
Other main candidates: Second on the list is Baiba Rubesa, a high-profile businesswoman who until last year headed the company in charge of the huge Rail Baltica infrastructure project, but quit in spectacular fashion saying it failed to live up to the best standards of corporate governance. Ieva Ilves is a longtime Foreign Ministry employee who found herself in the limelight when she became the third wife of former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves a few years ago.
🇪🇺 Mūs saraksta līderi EP vēlēšanām - politikas zinātnieks Ivars Ijabs, Eiropas biznesa eksperte Baiba Rubesa un kiberdrošības politikas eksperte Ieva Ilvesa.— Attīstībai / Par! (@AttistibaiPar) February 23, 2019
🔋Mūsu komandā ir apvienota starptautiska profesionālā pieredze, kas nāk ar jaunu jaudu Latvijas un Eiropas politikai! pic.twitter.com/9GX9d45nU3
Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS)
Lead candidate: Rumors that former Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola would seek a seat in Brussels were widespread even before the party did poorly at the Saeima elections, so it is no surprise they proved to be correct when the party was consigned to opposition in Saeima. ZZS is also keen to avoid a candidate as disastrous to its image as Iveta Grigule last time around.
Other main candidates: Reizniece-Ozola's former cabinet colleague Raimonds Bergmanis, generally adjudged a good Defense Minister is number two on the list and the physical presence of the former strongman would certainly get him noticed in Brussels. Third candidate Ringolds Arnītis is pretty anonymous in comparison, suggesting two seats may be the limit of ZZS ambitions as it hopes to rebuild.
ZZS piesaka kandidātus un prioritātes Eiropas Parlamenta vēlēšanām. pic.twitter.com/HktSFukDNU— ZZS (@ZZS_) March 4, 2019
Lead candidate: Roberts Zīle has been an MEP since 2004 and is seeking another 4-year term in Brussels. Regarded as one of the more intellectual and moderate members of this party grouping, he is a vehement opponent of outgoing European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, and will no doubt be hoping whoever replaces Juncker will be more to his taste. If re-elected he might take on a senior role within the parliament, as he is an influential member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.
Other main candidates: Dace Melbārde is the current Culture Minister and after five years in the job - during which time she has generally been popular - she has said she is ready for a change. If the National Alliance does manage to increase its Europarliament holdings from one seat to two, it will mean a new minister will have to be found. The third name on the NA list was something of a surprise: investigative journalist Ansis Pūpols, whose work will no doubt now be closely scrutinized for evidence of partiality.
Nacionālās apvienības dome apstiprina partijas Eiropas parlamenta vēlēšanu kandidātu sarakstu un programmu https://t.co/vtwZbIfkwc— Nacionālā apvienība (@VL_TBLNNK) February 23, 2019
New Conservative Party
Lead candidate: Andis Kudors is another well-respected academic and frequent political commentator who has taken the laudable but risky step of trying to enact political change instead of merely analyzing it. His experience at the Center for East European Policy Studies and fluent English and Russian gives him considerable foreign policy expertise and his familiarity with exposing the tricks and traps of Kremlin foreign policy is clearly something under-supplied in Brussels at present.
Other main candidates: The New Conservatives have only just broken into Saeima and become a considerable force there, so this will be an interesting test of their momentum. Candidates two and three are both newly-elected Saeima deputies, Gatis Eglītis and Linda Ozola. If one or both did get elected to Brussels, their places in Saeima would be taken by other party members.
Lead candidate: One of the Brussels bigwigs, European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis, leads the list for New Unity, which will hope to cash in on the honeymoon period currently being enjoyed by Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, himself an MEP until recently.
Other main candidates: Second on the list is long-time MEP Sandra Kalniete, who is widely respected and can be regarded as a vote-winner. Third place is party chairman and former Economics Minister Arvils Ašeradens who probably cannot be regarded as a vote-winner. New Unity currently has four of Latvia's eight MEPs, but a repeat of that performance would be stunning indeed.
#JaunāVienotība Eiropas Parlamenta vēlēšanām piedāvā komandu, kas ir pieredzējusi kā Latvijas, tā Eiropas politikā un ar savu darbu iemantojusi ietekmi visos varas līmeņos – kā Saeimā un EP, tā valdībā un Eiropas Komisijā 🇪🇺#StrongerTogether #EP2019 https://t.co/fQui0ZduQM pic.twitter.com/ur35mHx1jT— JAUNĀ VIENOTĪBA (@Jauna_Vienotiba) February 23, 2019
Lead candidate: Harmony seems to be in a state of confusion. In February, Rīga mayor announced at a glitzy ceremony that the lead candidate in the European Parliament elections would be academic and economist Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis. This was seen as payback for Dombrovskis' shouldering the burden of leading Harmony's Saeima election campaign after Ušakovs decided to stick to his job as mayor. Just one month later, Ušakovs was announcing that he taking the lead spot in the Euroelections himself.
Other main candidates: As if Ušakovs' U-turn wasn't shocking enough, he also announced his former deputy mayor Andris Ameriks - who is not even in the same party - will take number two spot. The general assumption is that the pair are keen to hop on a flight to Brussels as the scandal at municipal transport company Rīgas satiksme gets ever more serious, though neither man has been charged. Nevertheless, the selection of Ameriks, a wealthy businessman, sits extremely oddly on a party list backed by the Party of European Socialists and Democrats. Candidate number three is veteran Saeima deputy Boriss Cilevičs, with Dombrovskis now not even on the 16-strong list.
As with ZZS, Harmony's experience at the last European elections was less than ideal. Journalist Andrejs Mamikins was elected but later quit the party and this time around is standing for the Kremlin-friendly Latvian Russian Union.
Lead candidate: Another party in a certain amount of turmoil, KPV left it to the last minute to announce its candidates. Ever since a spectacular performance at the Saeima elections, their fortunes seem to have gone into decline as a result of a falling-out between former PM candidate Aldis Gobzems (now booted from the parliamentary party) and charismatic party founder Artuss Kaiminš. Speculation centered on whether Kaiminš would go for the Brussels option but in the end it is freshly-installed MP Kaspars Ģirgens - briefly mentioned as a possible minister a couple of months ago - who will take the lead.
Other main candidates: Instead of presenting completely new names, the party which was recently calling for a completely new political culture has filled the top of its list with other members of the new establishment: Roberts Spručs, who is parliamentary secretary at the Health Ministry and Beata Jonite, a consultant employed by the Economics Ministry.
The Other Parties
Latvian Russian Union
Lead candidate: The most obviously pro-Kremlin party in Latvia has hopes of retaining the seat won last time around by Tatjana Ždanoka. She handed it over to Miroslavs Mitrofanovs for a few months but now she wants it back. Second on the list is MEP Andrejs Mamikins, a defector from Harmony, but it would be a massive surprise if they managed to retain two seats. Mitrofanovs is relegated to third place.
Latvian Regional Alliance
LRA lost its Saeima seats back in October, so this could be make or break for the party if it needs to retain any sort of public profile. Lead candidate is Edvards Smiltēns, a former contender to lead Unity. The party is also punting Mārtiņš Barkovskis (who writes under the nom de plume Otto Ozols) and Inga Bite, a former Saeima deputy.
Having failed to win Saeima seats in October, the left-of-center Progressives nevertheless managed to attract the 2% support that entitled them to some state funding. They will be hoping to continue this modest revival of social democratic politics in Latvia spearheaded by disability rights campaigner Gunta Anča with party leader Roberts Putnis in second place and teacher Antoņina Ņenaševa in third spot.
Formerly known as the Eiroskeptiķu Rīcības partija (Eurosceptic Action party) this populist pot-pourri has shortened its name and lead candidate is Einars Graudiņš, a 54-year-old "pensioner" who frequently pops up on Kremlin media channels. Did dismally at October's Saeima elections, attracting just 0.12% of the vote.
A truly strange collision of minor parties with vaguely-defined Christian principles that at least has a new, short name. However it now also includes the rump of the For Latvia From The Heart (LNS) party which has at various times portrayed itself as soft-liberal, populist and much else besides. LNS leader Inguna Sudraba, a former chief auditor, pops straight to the head of the candidate list so presumably is bringing something to the party.
Another minnow which despite its centrist name describes itself as "Christian conservative" in orientation and keen to work with "patriotic" parties in Europe. It also promises to keep cash in circulation and prevent "forced chipping" in case that is something you were worried about. Its number 2 candidate, Waldemar Herdt, is a German Bundestag deputy for the right-wing AfD party, further weakening the centrist claim. Many similar names on its list as the "Latvian Centrist Party" which did worst of all in Saeima elections attracting just 897 votes nationwide. Parties must have at least 500 members to stand for European elections, so they must have somewhow managed a remarkable recruitment drive.
Having failed to win any seats at the Saeima elections, Latvian Nationalists leader Andris Rubins makes good on his well known perpetual billboard site in Sigulda which vows to "Never give up!" by running in the European elections, too. The party program says it hopes to ride a wave of nationalism in other parts of Europe, though is a bit short on how it defines the concept of nationalism.
This new arrival has been accused of being a cynical attempt to confuse voters by the existing Harmony party. The Unity party rebranded itself New Unity with moderate success, but "New Harmony" is a completely different entity to the Harmony party. It describes itself as a left-wing party and wants to make May 9 - Soviet "Victory Day" - a national holiday across the EU. It also suggests "An EP working group should be set up addressing disputed areas such as Crimea, Abkhazia, Palestine, Kosovo, Transnistria, etc." Its party list is 93% male. Perhaps surprisingly for a left-wing party, lead candidate and party chairman Jūris Žuravļovs runs a chain of currency exchange bureaus, which suggests he is not entirely opposed to high capitalism.
Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party
Apparently no longer allied with the two other parties with which it fought the Saeima elections (which now make up two thirds of Awakening, see above) the LSDSP claims to be the oldest party in the country with a 115-year history, but whether this incarnation bears any resemblance to the party of literary legend Rainis is highly dubious to put it mildly. They pledge to "prevent Latvia from becoming a landfill for harmful experiments with humans and waste disposal." Lead candidate is Jānis Dinevičs.
European "Lead candidate" to consider, too
As well as expressing a domestic preference, voters might also like to consider who they would like to see heading the next European Commission when they cast their ballots. Certain "lead candidates" will be sponsored by affiliated parties, so check whether you like the look of your party's choice.
The so-called “Spitzenkandidaten” (German for lead candidate) process, in which European political parties designate one candidate each for the post of EU Commission President, ahead of the European elections, was first used in 2014, to select current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The European Parliament has said it will reject any candidate for Commission President who has not been nominated in this way.
By establishing a link between the choice of Commission President and the outcome of the European elections, MEPs also consider that the 2014 “Spitzenkandidaten” process proved to be a success, and that the 2019 elections will cement the use of the same practice.
This video explains a little more.
More information about the European parliamentary elections, the parties and the candidates, some of which is in both Latvian and English, is available from the Central Electoral Commission website. The CVK is also operating a telephone information line about the elections: 67049999.
There is also a European Union initiative designed to encourage participation in the elections, particularly among young people, called "This time I'm voting" at https://www.soreizesbalsosu.eu.