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European elections: common rules and national provisions

Citizens are asking what are the main common rules and national provisions for electing Members of the European Parliament. The procedures for electing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are governed both by European Union (EU) legislation, which defines certain rules common to all Member States, and by provisions specific to each Member State.

Common rules

European elections 23-26 May 2019

© Momius / Fotolia

Common rules for electing MEPs are defined in Article 14 of the Treaty on European Union, Articles 20, 22 and 223 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, Article 39 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Act of 20 September 1976, amended in 2018, concerning the election of the representatives of the Assembly by direct universal suffrage.

The main common rules include:

  • Representation of the EU’s citizens shall be digressively proportional, with a minimum threshold of 6 members per Member State and a maximum of 96 seats. The overall total number of seats shall not exceed 751.
  • MEPs shall be elected for a term of 5 years by direct universal suffrage in a free and secret ballot.
  • MEPs shall be elected on the basis of proportional representation, using the list system or the single transferable vote, where the voter has one vote, but can rank the candidates.
  • Elections to the European Parliament are held within the same period in all Member States, starting on a Thursday morning and ending on the following Sunday, with the exact date and times being fixed by each Member State.
  • Member States may provide for the possibilities of advance voting, postal voting, and electronic and internet voting. They shall ensure the reliability of the result, secrecy of the vote and protection of personal data. Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure the prevention of double voting.

Furthermore, Directive 93/109/EC lays down detailed arrangements for the exercise of the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament for citizens of the Union residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals.

National provisions

In addition to the common rules, Member States set up their own provisions. For instance, Member States may establish constituencies for elections to the European Parliament and/or may set a minimum threshold for the allocation of seats. At the national level, this threshold may not exceed 5 % of valid votes cast.

Voting is compulsory in five Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Greece): both nationals and registered non-national EU citizens are under a legal obligation to vote.

Other matters are also governed by national provisions, such as the minimum voting age or the minimum age for standing as a candidate.

More information

The ‘2019 European elections: National rules‘ infographic provides an overview of the national provisions for electing MEPs.

More information is available on the European Parliament website, in the section entitled ‘EU fact sheets – The European Parliament: electoral procedures‘.

The ‘European elections‘ section of the ‘Your Europe‘ website offers further insight into the various aspects of the European elections.

Continue to put your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP). We reply to you in the EU language that you use to write to us.

About Ask EP

The Citizens' Enquiries Unit provides information on the activities, powers and organisation of the European Parliament. You ask, we answer.

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