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Electoral Laws - Introduction

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INTRODUCTION
Elections to the European Parliament : 10-11 & 13 june 1999
Electoral Procedure

 

Looking ahead to the European Parliament elections of 10-13 June this year as well as those due in 2004 and 2009, the EP decided to draw up common electoral principles to ensure that the elections had a "European" character. These principles are set out in a report by Georgios ANASTASSOPOULOS (EPP, Gr) which was adopted by a large majority (355 for, 146 against and 39 abstentions) on 15 July 1998.

Discussions on this issue had long centred on the idea of a "uniform electoral procedure". However, Article 190 of the Amsterdam Treaty introduced the idea of "common principles" to be used for the elections in all the Member States. Various debates held over the years had made clear the difficulty of reaching complete agreement: this is why it was decided to look for “common principles”. The ball is now in the court of the Member States, who must agree unanimously on the new principles. Parliament will then have to adopt them by an absolute majority (314 votes) before they are ratified by the national parliaments.

The data sheets contained in this publication set out the facts on each country relating to the 1999 elections. The common principles - which are described in more detail below - are due to come into effect for the 2004 elections.

 

- Parliament's approach has been, in the words of Mr Anastassopoulos, "simple, modest, flexible and gradual". He believes any changes must be based on two principles: a close relationship with the electorate and proportionality.

Parliament's main task as the "democratic pillar" of the EU's institutional system is to "europeanise" the issues. Clearly, one way to do this is to strengthen ties between MEPs and voters, which has led Parliament to call for the use of proportional representation (although this does not mean all the Member States have to use the same system). This year, for the first time since direct elections to the EP began in 1979, the fifteen Member States will all use forms of proportional representation.

In Parliament's eyes, the term "common principles" does not cover rules governing the right to vote (e.g. a minimum age or categories of people not allowed to vote), the right to stand for election, election campaigns, the question of whether or not voting is compulsory or any lists of national posts incompatible with being an MEP other than those laid down in the Act of 20 September 1976. However, it believes common principles can be applied to other areas of the electoral process.

In its draft act contained in Mr Anastassopoulos' report, Parliament says that MEPs should be elected by a list- based proportional representation system. Member States are to create "constituencies" - although this provision applies in the first place only to States whose population exceeds 20 million (Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the UK). Only Italy uses such a system at present. Germany allows a choice between lists at national and Land level. The UK has divided its territory into 12 regions for this purpose.

In addition, thinking ahead to the 2009 elections, and with a view to creating a European political awareness, Parliament has decided to consider a proposal that a certain percentage of seats should be distributed on a proportional basis within a single constituency consisting of the territory of all the Member States taken together.

 

- As to the threshold of votes required to win a seat, Parliament believes each Member State should decide this for itself but that it should be no higher than 5% of the votes cast (five States currently have such a rule: Germany 5%, France 5%, Greece 3%, Austria 4%, Sweden 4%).

 

- Parliament is also in favour of preference voting, although it argues that each Member State should be able to determine the exact procedure to be used (at present nine countries use preference voting: Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Sweden).

 

- Parliament believes that the office of Member of the European Parliament should be incompatible with the office of Member of a national parliament. Only four Member States (Belgium, Greece, Spain and Austria) currently have a complete ban on the holding of both offices, while Ireland has a partial ban. In Portugal, a national MP who is elected to the European Parliament is replaced in the national parliament by the next person on his list; if the MEP later leaves the European Parliament he is automatically reinstated as a national MP. As at 18 January 1999, there were 3 French, 5 Italian and 3 British MEPs who were also national MPs.

- In another area which is crucial to the "European" dimension of the elections, all EU citizens who meet the stipulated conditions may vote and stand for election in the country in which they reside (see individual data sheets).

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