Published on July 21st, 2018

The procedures for electing the EP are governed both by European legislation which indicated ground rules that are common to all Member States. The main part of the elections depends on specific national provisions which vary from one state to another. When we talk about the European elections, we are thus truly talking about different elections: on different days, with different candidates, and different elections systems. So, what is the premise that the EU law gives to the nation states, and how do they treat it?

The MEPs have not always been elected by the EU citizens. The founding Treaties stated that MEPs would initially be appointed by the national parliaments but made provision to give the right to elect the MEPs to all adult citizens. This provision was implemented for the first elections in 1979, and profoundly changed the institutional position of the European Parliament to a more democratic one. In 1999, the principles of proportional representation and incompatibility between national and European mandates were introduced. With the Treaty of Lisbon, the right to vote and to stand as a candidate acquired the status of a fundamental right.

The legal basis for the election of the EP is laid down in Article 14 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 20, 22 and 223 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Many other important matters, such as the exact electoral system used and the number of constituencies, are governed by national laws.

The elections must use either the list system or the single transferable vote system. In list systems, parties make lists of national candidates to be elected, and seats get distributed to each party in proportion to the number of votes the party receives. An extreme example would be the past Portuguese EP election system, in which the voting ballot showed the party, without the names or a ranking of the candidates.

The transferable vote system allows the voter to elect their most preferred candidate. It is designed to allow ranked voting in e.g. voting districts. For the past EP elections in the Republic of Ireland, the ballots from each voting district thus showed the party, name and a photo of every candidate, who could be ranked according to the voter’s preference.

In the TFEU, the ambition to adopt a uniform European election procedure is set out. It requires the consent of the European Parliament and the Council, which has yet to be fulfilled. Since the 1960s the EP has repeatedly voiced its opinion on issues of electoral law. Their continuing efforts to modernise and ‘Europeanise’ the common electoral procedure led to a proposal for a uniform electoral procedure in 1997. Whilst parts of this proposal led to the elections as they are today, the proposed European constituency (establishing a single European constituency to fill 10% of the seats) is still subject of debate. The EP has continuously put forward proposals to uniform the procedure for the election to the EP. Their lack of success shows how difficult it is to harmonise different national traditions.

On 22 November 2012, the EP adopted a resolution urging the European political parties to nominate candidates for the position of President of the Commission, to reinforce the political legitimacy of both Parliament and the Commission. These arrangements were implemented ahead of the 2014 elections and, for the first time, lead candidates ran in the 2014 elections. The EP was able to enforce this against the will of many national governments because they accept or reject the entire Commission. By not nominating the strongest lead candidate as Commission president, the Council thus ran the risk of blocking the functioning of the EU, since the EP was ready to dismiss any commission proposed. The lead candidate of the strongest fraction in the EP thus became the Commission President for the term of 2014-2019. Though the future of this procedure is unclear, the European fractions started discussing how and when to nominate their lead candidates for 2019. Though this candidate might not be from your own country, it is worth to investigate his or her political position, since one fraction chose to have them represent their views.