|European Parliament Fact Sheets|
1.3.4. The European Parliament: electoral procedures
The founding Treaties stated that Members of the European Parliament would initially be appointed by the national parliaments but made provision for election by direct universal suffrage, based on a project drawn up by Parliament itself. It was only in 1976 that the Council decided to implement this provision by the Act of 20 September, now incorporated in the EC Treaty at Article 190 (138(1)).
2. Electoral procedure
Article 190(4) (138(3)) of the EC Treaty states that elections must be held in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States and Parliament shall draw up a proposal to this effect, for unanimous adoption by the Council. However, as the Council has not been able to agree on the various projects presented by Parliament, the Treaty of Amsterdam has introduced the possibility, failing a uniform procedure, of 'principles common to all Member States'. This was the line that Parliament took in a new draft adopted on 15 July 1998.
3. Entitlement to vote
Article 19 (8b) ECT states: ‘every citizen of the Union residing in a Member State of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament in the Member State in which he resides'. The arrangements to implement this right were adopted on 6 December 1993 in Directive 93/109/EC , which was transposed into national law by the Member States by 1 February 1994.
MAIN FEATURES OF ELECTORAL LAWS
1. Electoral system
The fifteen Member States now all use various systems of proportional representation. Lists failing to obtain 5% of the vote in Germany or France, and 4% in Austria or Sweden, are excluded from the allocation of seats. Until the 1994 elections the United Kingdom used the first-past-the-post system (except in Northern Ireland, where proportional representation was already in use).
2. Constituency boundaries
In 11 Member States (Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden) the whole country forms a single electoral area. In four Member States (Belgium, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom) the national territory is divided into a number of constituencies. In Germany political parties are entitled to present lists of candidates either at Länder or national level and in Finland they may do so either at electoral district or national level.
3. Entitlement to vote
Voting age is 18 in all the Member States. Citizens of the Union residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals now have the right, under Article 19 (8b) ECT, to vote in elections to Parliament in the Member State in which they reside, under the same conditions as nationals of that State. However, the concept of residence still varies from one national electoral system to another, requiring you either to have your domicile or customary residence on electoral territory (Finland and France), or to customarily to stay there (Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy), or to be registered on the electoral roll (Austria, Denmark, United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden). To be entitled to vote in Luxembourg Community citizens must also prove a minimum period of residence. On the right to vote of citizens resident abroad, in the United Kingdom this is confined to civil servants members of the armed forces, and citizens who left the country less than five years before, provided they submit a declaration to the appropriate authorities. Austria, Denmark, Portugal and the Netherlands only grant the right to vote to their nationals living in EU Member State. Sweden, Belgium, France, Spain, Greece and Italy grant their nationals the right to vote whatever their country of residence. Germany grants the right to citizens who have lived in another country for less than ten years. In Ireland the right to vote is confined to EU citizens domiciled on the national territory.
4. Right to stand for election
Apart from the requirement of nationality of an EU Member State, which is common to all the Member States, conditions vary from one to another.
a. Minimum age
18 in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, 19 in Austria, 21 in Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, 23 in France and 25 in Italy.
In Luxembourg at least ten years' residence is required to enable a Community national to stand for election to the European Parliament. Moreover a list may not comprise a majority of candidates who do not have Luxembourgish nationality.
In five Member States (Denmark, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Sweden) only political parties and political organisations may submit nominations. In the other countries, nominations may be submitted if they are endorsed by the required number of signatures or electors, and in some cases (France, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) a deposit is also required. In Ireland and Italy candidates may nominate themselves if they are endorsed by the required number of signatures.
6. Election dates
The last European Parliament elections were held in June 1999, on 10 June in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where Thursday is the traditional voting day, and on 13 June in all the other countries, where it is traditional to vote on a Sunday. The next elections will be held in June 2004.
7. Voters’ option to alter the order of candidates on lists
In five States (Germany, Spain, France, Greece and Portugal) voters cannot alter the order in which candidates appear on a list. In eight States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden) the order on the list may be changed using transferable votes; in Luxembourg voters may vote for candidates from different lists. Elections in Ireland and the United Kingdom do not use the list system.
8. Allocating seats
Of the 14 Member States which use proportional representation, eight have adopted the d'Hondt rule for allocating seats (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Portugal). Germany uses the Hare-Niemeyer method and Luxembourg a variant of the d'Hondt method, the 'Hagenbach-Bischoff' method. In Italy seats are allocated by the whole electoral quota and largest remainder method, in Ireland by the single transferable vote method, in Greece by the weighted method of proportional representation known as 'Eniskhimeni Analogiki', and in Sweden by the Sainte-Laguë method (division by successive odd numbers but modified to make the largest common divisor 1.4).
9. Verification of the result and rules on election campaigns
There is provision for Parliament to verify the election results in Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg, and for the courts to do so in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom, while both are provided for in Germany. In Spain the result is verified by the ‘Junta Electoral Central'; in Portugal and Sweden a verification committee does so.
The returning officer of each constituency is responsible for counting the vote and announcing the result.
10. Filling of seats vacated during the electoral term
In eight Member States (Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal) seats falling vacant following ‘open' resignation are allocated to the first unelected candidates on the lists (possibly after permutation to reflect the votes obtained by the various candidates). In Belgium, Ireland, Germany and Sweden vacant seats are allocated to substitutes. In Spain and Germany if there are no substitutes account is taken of the order of candidates on the lists. In the United Kingdom, by-elections are held. In Greece vacant seats are allocated to substitutes on the same list; if there are not enough substitutes, by-elections are held.
ROLE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Since the 1960s Parliament has repeatedly voiced its opinion on issues of electoral law in reports, resolutions and in written and oral questions and has put forward proposals in accordance with Article 190 (138) of the EEC Treaty. Parliament adopted three resolutions, in 1991, 1992 and 1993, on establishing a uniform electoral procedure, but the Council did not consider them as proposals within the meaning of Article 190 and in any case adopted only the proposal concerning the allocation of seats among the Member States.
Article 190(4) ECT, modified by the Amsterdam Treaty, provides for Parliament to draw up a proposal for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States or in accordance with principles common to all Member States. In September 1997, Parliament's Institutional Affairs Committee decided to draw up a report to facilitate implementation of this new provision. On the basis of this report, Parliament adopted a resolution on a proposal for a uniform electoral procedure for electing MEPs, which includes a proposal for an electoral act. The Council has not yet considered this proposal.
The continuing lack of a uniform procedure for election to the European Parliament shows how difficult it is to harmonise different national traditions. Parliament hopes that the Amsterdam Treaty's option of adopting common principles will make it possible to overcome these difficulties.
(1) Consultation procedure: COS1997/2242