Learn about the European Parliament Elections

EU citizens go to the polls every five years to elect their representatives in the European Parliament, one of the EU’s two legislative bodies alongside the Council of the European Union (not to be confused with the European Council, which is made up of the heads of state or government of EU member states! Simple, right? Then there’s the European Commission, but we won’t even go there…). But how do European Parliament elections work? With 28 EU member states at the previous election in 2014, representing an overall population of around 510 million, things can get a little complicated.


How are countries represented in the European Parliament?

Each EU member country is allocated a certain number of European Parliament Members (MEPs) according to their population, although smaller countries are given relatively more seats in parliament than would be the case under a strictly proportional electoral system. Of the total 751 seats in the European Parliament, smaller countries like Cyprus and Luxembourg are represented by 6 MEPs each, whereas Germany, the most populous country in the European Union, is represented by 96 MEPs.


How does the electoral system work?

Broadly speaking, European Parliament elections follow a system of proportional representation. This means if a particular political party receives 25% of the vote, it will win around 25% of parliamentary seats. However, the way in which this system is implemented varies across member states with respect to the method used, as well as the breakdown of electoral constituencies. The following examples illustrate the point:

Republic of Ireland
The national electorate in Ireland is broken down into 3 sub-constituencies – Dublin, Midlands-North-West, and South. Each constituency contributes a fixed number of MEPs to Ireland’s national total of 11 representatives in the European Parliament. Within each constituency, the ‘single transferable vote’ system is used to achieve proportional representation.

Unlike Ireland, Spain simply elects its 54 MEPs from a single, national constituency. The ‘d’Hondt’ method is used in order to allocate seats according to proportional representation.

United Kingdom
If the previous two cases didn’t complicate things enough, the UK is broken down into multiple sub-constituencies in European Parliament elections. It also employs a combination of ‘single transferable voting’ (in Northern Ireland) and the ‘d’Hondt’ system (everywhere else).

When do European Parliament elections take place?

European Parliament elections are held every five years, the most recently in 2014. The next election is due to be held in 2019. EU member states have differing voting traditions. Therefore countries may choose from within a four-day window spanning from Thursday to Sunday. Countries such the Netherlands and the UK traditionally hold elections on Thursdays, whereas most other EU countries conduct elections on Sundays.

What might the future hold for European Parliament elections?

Voter turnout in EU parliamentary elections has been in steady decline since 1979 when the inaugural election drew 62% of eligible voters to polling stations across Europe. This figure has gone south every five years since, with the 2014 election yielding voter turnout of just 43%. So, what can the EU do to buck this trend and restore faith in European democracy? At POLYAS, we firmly believe in harnessing the power of cutting-edge digital technology to boost voter turnout through online elections.

Read more about how voter turnout is increased by allowing voters the option to participate online.

The next president is due to be elected tomorrow (17.01.2017). We will post the new EU presidential results and a bit more about the process of presidential elections in the European Union.