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Imagine it's time for the European elections – and the British have to vote

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Imagine it's time for the European elections – and the British have to vote

Nicholas Bukovec

/ 3 Minuten zu lesen

When and on what terms Britain will leave the EU still isn't clear. But now what had seemed unthinkable to many is now looking increasingly likely.

A man in front of a container serving as a polling station in Halesowen, UK (© picture-alliance/AP)

On April 10 the EU member states granted Britain a Externer Link: Brexit extension for the second time. Theresa May now has until 31 October 2019 to somehow sort out Britain's exit from the EU. Her deal with the bloc has already been rejected three times by the House of Commons.

The postponement means that what had seemed unthinkable to many - the participation of the British in the European elections - is now a distinct possibility. Because the only way Britain won't have to take part is if May's unpopular deal is approved by May 22, as the prime minister herself pointed out after the EU summit in Brussels.

Originally Britain was to leave the EU on March 29. But so far the deal Theresa May negotiated with the leaders of the EU has failed to gain a majority in the House of Commons. To avoid a no-deal Brexit, May asked for Externer Link: Brexit to be postponed on March 21, and the EU obliged, extending the date until April 12.

But because the London parliament wasn't able to reach an agreement by that date either, the EU has granted a second extension, albeit with great reluctance on the part of France's President Macron.

Britain as the powerbroker in Brussels?

Back in March Spiegel Online described the prospect of the British taking part in the EU elections as a "ludicrous idea": "The citizens of a country that will be leaving the EU in the foreseeable future will be called on to once again elect parliamentarians for Brussels shortly before their membership ends. This could mean they will even be able to influence the election of the next EU Commission President."

The British newspaper Externer Link: The Daily Telegraph warns of the consequences: "But if there are two or three serious contenders for any of these top roles [in the EU Commission] this time around, the UK may well act as the powerbroker. How attractive is that prospect for the EU27? If the UK government has any sense, after all, it will use its influence in those discussions as leverage in Brexit negotiations."

British involvement in the EU elections could alter the balance of power in the newly elected EU Parliament, the Telegraph continues: "If the UK dispatches a new legion of MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg, which would no doubt include plenty of eurosceptics, the possibility of the parliament continuing with business as usual would shrink further."

The awkward issue of Northern Ireland

Theresa May has repeated on several occasions that she doesn't want the British to take part in the EU elections. But within her party functionaries are already preparing for this eventuality. The British daily Externer Link: The Guardian reported that Ashley Fox, the leader of the Conservative Party delegation in the EU Parliament, has written to the other Tory MEPs about running for election once more should Theresa May fail to get her deal through the House of Commons.

The subject also raises awkward questions in Ireland. Around a fifth of the population of Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, holds Irish as well as British citizenship. These people will continue to be EU citizens after Brexit - but without representation in the EU Parliament. The Northern Irish MEP Chris Hazzard of the Irish republican party Sinn Féin insists in the Northern Irish daily Irish News that these citizens will continue to have the right to elect political representatives in the European Parliament. He criticises the Irish government in Dublin for not being willing to make Northern Irish parliamentarians part of its own contingent of MEPs.

But not all the consequences of Brexit have been negative for Ireland, the daily paper Irish Examiner notes: "Every European parliament election since the first, in 1979, has been largely about anything and everything except the European Union. … This time may be a little different. In Brexit, there has never been more European focus on political discussion since our accession to the EEC."

Nicholas Bukovec is euro|topics correspondent for Great Britain and Ireland. He studied political science, history and economics in Vienna, Dublin and Limerick. From 1999 to 2011 he was editor of the Austrian daily newspaper "Kurier" in Vienna, in the departments International and Politics. Since 2011 he has been working from Dublin as a freelance journalist and for an online marketing platform.