Just the Facts – Electoral Systems across the EU for the Elections

Following on from the three Just the Facts constituency reviews which we issued to you our members last week, we have prepared a series of Just the Facts information briefings focusing on the European Parliament elections this Friday, 23 May.

Further instalments in this series of articles will follow in the coming days in the run-up to the elections as part of our communications and information work around the 2014 European Parliament elections.

Electoral Systems across the EU for the Elections

Between Thursday 22 and Sunday 25 May 2014, voting will take place across the EU’s 28 Member States to elect Members of the next European Parliament.

Electoral systems across the EU for national elections can be divided into three categories:

  • majoritarian systems (e.g. first past the post);
  • proportional systems (e.g. party list or single transferable vote);
  • mixed electoral systems.

Voting in European Parliament elections in all 28 Member States is conducted using a form of proportional representation.  A European Council Decision of 25 June and 23 September 2002 allows that ‘in accordance with its specific national situation, each Member State may establish constituencies for elections to the European Parliament or subdivide its electoral area in a different manner, without generally affecting the proportional nature of the voting system’.  It also notes that ‘Member States may authorise voting based on a preferential list system in accordance with the procedure they adopt’.

Constituencies across Europe – how do they work?
In light of Croatia’s accession to the European Union and the resulting reduction in the number of Irish MEPs, Ireland will have 11 MEPs from the 2014 elections onwards and is now divided into three constituencies for the European Parliament elections: Dublin, Midlands-North-West and South.  Ireland is one of only six Member States whose national territory does not simply form a single electoral constituency for the European elections.  The other five Member States which are sub-divided into constituencies are Belgium, France, Italy, Poland and the UK.

What is Proportional Representation?
The use of proportional representation in elections is said to create a parliamentary chamber which more accurately reflects the diverse make-up of the electorate than other electoral systems.  There are two main forms of proportional system: single transferable vote (STV) and the list system.

The single transferable vote system sees voters ranking candidates in order of preference.  To be elected, a candidate has to reach a certain number of votes, with the candidate elected as soon as s/he reaches the electoral quotient calculated by what is known as the ‘Droop’ quota.  If elected, any additional votes are then redistributed to remaining candidates on the basis of second choices made on ballots.  Redistribution of votes also occurs for candidates who register the lowest amount of votes, when these candidates are eliminated from the process.  The process continues through as many counts as necessarily until all the seats have been filled.  Ireland and Malta are the only two Member States to use the single transferable vote system in the European Parliament elections.

The ‘list system’ is the preferred electoral system for the rest of the 28 Member States, where a party lists its candidates according to the party’s determination of priorities.  In some Member States, voters can only vote for a list, without the possibility to change the order of candidates on the list.  This is known as a closed list.  In other nations, voters can express a preference for one or more of the candidates.  This is known as preferential voting.  Depending on the degree of liberty voters enjoy when casting a preferential vote, it is possible to distinguish between semi-open lists, where voters can change the position of one or all candidates on a chosen list, and open lists, where voters can vote for candidates from different lists.  With the list system, a party must generally achieve at least 5% before winning any seats.  The list system also puts great emphasis on the lead candidate.


This Just the Facts article is also available as an email information service from European Movement Ireland to our members. For more information on becoming a member of European Movement Ireland, contact our offices or visit our Membership webpages.


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