Written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva and Silvia Kotanidis,
The allocation of seats in collegiate organs such as parliaments requires a method to translate votes proportionally into whole seats. The ‘d’Hondt method’ is a mathematical formula used widely in proportional representation systems, although it leads to less proportional results than other systems for seat allocation such as the Hare-Niemeyer and Sainte-Laguë/Schepers methods. Moreover, it tends to increase the advantage for the electoral lists gaining most votes to the detriment of those with fewer votes. It is, however, effective in facilitating majority formation and thus in securing parliamentary operability.
The d’Hondt method is used by 16 EU Member States for the elections to the European Parliament. Furthermore, it is also used within the Parliament as a formula for distributing the chairs of the parliamentary committees and delegations, as well as to distribute those posts among the national delegations within some political groups. Such proportional distribution of leadership positions within Parliament prevents domination of parliamentary political life by only one or two large political groups, ensuring smaller political groups also have a say on the political agenda. Some argue however that this limits the impact of the election results on the political direction of decision-making within Parliament and call for a ‘winner-takes-all’ approach instead.
Many national parliaments in the EU also distribute committee chairs and other posts proportionally among political groups (either using the d’Hondt method or more informally). Other Member States, however, apply a ‘winner-takes-more’ approach with only some committee chairs with particular relevance to government scrutiny being reserved for opposition groups, while in the US House of Representatives committee chairs have to come from the majority party.
Read the complete Briefing on ‘Understanding the d’Hondt method: Allocation of parliamentary seats and leadership positions‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.