Members' Research Service By / June 7, 2023

One year to go to the 2024 European elections

Every five years, Europeans go to the polls to elect their representatives in the European Parliament.

Age to stand as a candidate for the EP

Written by Clare Ferguson.

Every five years, Europeans go to the polls to elect their representatives in the European Parliament. The next chance for citizens to choose who will defend their interests takes place from 6 to 9 June 2024. This will be the 10th time Europeans vote in the world’s largest transnational elections, mandating over 700 Members to represent their views in the only directly elected European institution. With 12 months to go before voting begins, the European Parliament is keen to ensure that Europeans have all the information they need to make their choice. The European Parliamentary Research Service has therefore prepared analysis of some organisational aspects of the 2024 elections.

Although turnout in the European elections increased to 51 % in 2019 (+8.05 percentage points – the highest turnout in two decades), EU institutions and governments are keen to ensure greater representativeness by boosting voter numbers. The election results are also likely to affect young people directly, both in the years to come and later on. Several countries have therefore lowered the voting age (you can vote aged 17 years in Greece, and aged 16 years in Germany, Malta, Austria, and – because voting is obligatory once registered – upon request in Belgium). This should allow young people to have their say on candidates that reflect their values. Furthermore, the European Parliament proposes to allow young people (aged at least 18) to stand as candidates throughout the EU, although that new rule is unlikely to be in place in time for the 2024 elections. At present, the minimum age for candidates is set by each EU country and varies from 18 to 25 years.

Figure 1 – Voting age in the Member States
Voting age in the Member States

The EU guarantees all citizens the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The European Parliament is an active supporter of the right to equal participation for people with disabilities. Parliament demands that the EU and its Member States ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities to vote, campaign, and stand as candidates. Parliament has also highlighted the urgent need to ensure equal access to polling stations and better representation of people with disabilities on electoral rolls.

Depending on the outcome of the elections, the formation of a stable majority is the most likely outcome to provide a good balance between representativeness and getting Parliament’s work done. Setting an electoral threshold (minimum percentage of votes needed for the allocation of seats) is one way to ensure that Parliament can operate without multiple very small parties pulling in too many different directions. Although it is unlikely to be agreed with the Member States in time for the 2024 elections, Parliament adopted a draft law in May 2022, seeking to modify the rules on electoral thresholds in the European elections. Under the proposal, EU countries could set a threshold of no more than 5 % of the valid votes cast, but they would be obliged to establish a threshold of no less than 3.5 % and no more than 5 % for national constituencies comprising more than 60 seats (only the largest Member States). The electoral thresholds expected still to apply in 2024, however, remain at 5 % of valid votes (France, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, Romania, Croatia, Latvia and Hungary), 3 % (Greece), 4 % (Austria, Italy, Sweden), and 1.8 % (Cyprus), while 14 Member States set no threshold.

Electoral thresholds for the 2024 European elections
Electoral thresholds for the 2024 European elections

Once the new Parliament is in place, Members vote to elect the new head of the European Union’s executive body, the President of the European Commission, and hold public hearings to examine the proposed team of Commissioners. To strengthen the political link between the new Parliament’s composition and the choice of a new Commission President, a ‘lead-candidates’ process, known as the Spitzenkandidaten process was used in 2014. European political parties designated their candidate for the post of President of the Commission, meaning that voters would influence the choice of the President of the EU’s executive when choosing to vote for a particular party. While this led to the successful election of European People’s Party lead candidate Jean‑Claude Juncker in 2014 – this was not the case in 2019, with the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen, who had not been a candidate in the election. Was this a temporary switch from a process aimed at making the appointment of EU leaders more comprehensible to the public? Or is the EU abandoning this particular attempt to give European citizens a greater say on who becomes the next President of the Commission? With only 12 months to go, it remains to be seen whether the lead-candidates process will be employed in 2024.

As we have seen above, a European Parliament with a robust mandate from a large voter base is best able to represent citizens’ wishes. Mobilising people to vote has been a major goal for the EU since before the first direct elections in 1979. The organisation of the elections is itself a reflection of this fundamental democratic need, with a crucial role played by political parties. While today’s European political parties are a familiar aspect of the campaign, there was less agreement in the past as to whether European parties were needed for ‘European’ elections. The debate surrounding self-standing European parties and their role in voter mobilisation has run for decades, and continues today. A revision of EU law governing the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations, part of the ‘new push for European democracy’, is currently under discussion between the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

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While some consider European elections are ‘second-order’ elections, the increased turnout in 2019 shows this may not be the case forever. With the geopolitical situation underlining the benefits of EU membership, Parliament is working on several proposals to make European elections more consistent and robust across the EU.

Further reading:

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