||European Parliament elections 1999
Electoral Laws - Introduction
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
- 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
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
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
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).