In May, European citizens will be turning out to elect their representatives to the European Parliament, but this is by no means a uniform process. As with many areas, the EU is a fairly flexible system and while Member States have to hold to some general principles, they can implement these ideas in their own way. Europa United’s Pascal LeTendre-Hanns helps explain what actually happens during the election and how it all works.
When are the elections?
European Parliament elections do not take place on a single day, instead they take place over a series of four days, running from 23rd to 26th May.
Below are the dates for each Member State’s elections:
23rd May: Netherlands
24th May: Czechia (Day 1), Ireland
25th May: Czechia (Day 2), Latvia, Malta
26th May: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain
Unconfirmed: Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden
What is the voting system?
As with the election date, the exact voting system can vary between Member States. EU rules state that it has to be a proportional system but otherwise Member States have a fair degree of flexibility in what system they use.
Broadly speaking nearly every country uses a list system where the entire country is treated as a single constituency. Even here though there is variation as in some countries, like Germany, voters simply choose a party, while in others, like Italy, voters can cast their ballot for an individual candidate.
The Republic of Ireland is unusual in being split into three different constituencies and using Single Transferable Vote (STV) instead of a list system. The UK also used regional constituencies though only Northern Ireland used STV, the rest of the country used a party list system.
Malta meanwhile does not use multiple constituencies but does use STV. Poland is the opposite, using the normal party list system but splitting the country into multiple constituencies.
Finally, Belgium has possibly the most unusual system due to the particular nature of the country. It is split into three different electoral colleges, one French-speaking, one Dutch-speaking and one German-speaking. The first two use party list (note that Belgium has separate francophone and Flemish parties) but the third is unique in all of Europe – it is the only seat that is not elected by proportional representation. Why? Because the German-speaking constituency only elects one MEP, therefore they have to use First Past The Post.
What are thresholds?
In some countries, there are electoral ‘thresholds’. This means that when calculating the number of seats per party, a party can only qualify if they win a certain minimum percentage. Most countries do not have any kind of minimum threshold but the ones that do are listed below, along with the minimum score a party needs.
4%: Austria, Italy, Sweden
5%: Croatia, Czechia, France, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia
Keep in mind however that most countries have a ‘de facto threshold’ because there simply won’t be enough seats to proportionally reward every party (because you cannot have fractions of seats obviously).
Where can people vote?
Given that we are talking about European elections, the ability to vote while in another EU state is important for millions of European citizens and the ability to vote in a non-EU state concerns is also a key issue. Here too, however, rules vary widely on whether and how citizens can vote from abroad.
Four countries (Czechia, Ireland, Malta and Slovakia) do not allow voting from abroad at all, while Bulgaria and Italy only allow it if the person is residing in another EU state.
For the other Member States they all allow either voting by post, by proxy, at the embassy or some combination of the three (the best way to be sure is always to check with the embassy in question). Estonia (and it is famous for its innovation in this field) is the only country that allows e-voting.
How many MEPs are elected?
As a result of Brexit, some of the UK’s seats have been reallocated to other countries, while the rest have been abolished entirely. Therefore the total number of seats has been cut from 751 in 2014 to 705 in 2019.
Countries elect a number of MEPs proportional to the size of their population, ranging from the biggest state Germany with 96 MEPs down to the smallest, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta, each with 6 MEPs.
Of course this assumes that the UK does not take part in the European Parliament elections, something which remains the subject of a fair amount of speculation.
To finish this all off, once the elections have taken place, the new parliamentary term (which will be the 9th), will begin on 2nd July, with the inaugural session of the new Parliament.
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