EU election reform: MEPs push for common rules and transnational lists 

A man steps out of a polling booth after voting for the European Parliament elections on 25 May, 2014, at a polling station in Bucharest.  

The European Parliament adopted a proposal to have more common rules for EU elections and the addition of an EU-wide constituency.

The EU elections determine the representatives of Europeans at EU level, but how they are organised is largely decided at national level. This means that countries vote on different days, only national political parties appear on the ballots and voting age varies.

A proposal, prepared by the Parliament's constitutional affairs committee and adopted by MEPs on 3 May, seeks to reform the European Electoral Act, which sets out some common standards for the organisation of European elections.

The report says it is essential to transform the EU elections “into a single European election, [...] as opposed to 27 separate national elections, which is the way that European elections are organised today”.

“The voters are given new powers: as well as choosing their members of Parliament, they can support a European political party, a common European programme and a candidate for the president of the European Commission,” said report author Domènec Ruiz Devesa (S&D, Spain) during the plenary debate on 2 May.

Transnational electoral lists and lead candidates

MEPs propose the establishment of an EU-wide constituency to elect 28 MEPs in addition to the MEPs elected in national or regional constituencies.

European political parties or coalitions of national parties would be able to propose transnational lists of candidates headed by their preferred candidate for the president of the European Commission. There should be geographical balance in transnational lists by including candidates from large, medium-sized and smaller countries in alternating order.

The proposal also says that lead candidates should be able to stand in all member states on the EU-wide lists, allowing voters to vote for their preferred candidate for Commission president.

A proposal for transnational lists prior to the 2019 European elections did not receive support from EU heads of state and government. At a meeting in February 2018, they said they would come back to the issue “in the future, with a view to the 2024 elections”.

In 2014, the European Council nominated Jean-Claude Juncker, the lead candidate from the European People’s Party (EPP), the European political family that won the most votes, as Commission president. In 2019, however, EU leaders did not follow the same process.

MEPs argue that the establishment of an EU-wide constituency in which lists are headed by each political group’s candidate for Commission president would strengthen European democracy and further legitimise the election of the president of the Commission.

A recommendation for transnational electoral lists was adopted as a proposal by the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Common provisions for the elections

MEPs propose that the EU election day should be the same for all EU countries and that it should always take place on 9 May, Europe Day.

Currently, elections take place from Thursday to Sunday, with each country following its national electoral traditions.

The proposal seeks to harmonise the age from which EU citizens have the right to vote or stand for EU elections. MEPs recommend that all Europeans should have the right to vote from 16 and that every EU citizen over 18 should have the right to stand for election.

The proposal envisages that all EU countries should provide for postal voting in the European elections. It also says that gender equality in electoral lists should be ensured either through zipped lists, where men and women candidates alternate, or through quotas.

Special procedure for amending electoral rules

Updates of the European Electoral Act are subject to a special decision-making procedure. The proposal is prepared by the European Parliament. The Council can amend it and has to adopt the text unanimously after obtaining the consent of the Parliament. All EU countries have to approve the provisions before they can enter into force.