Written by Micaela Del Monte, Maria Díaz Crego and Silvia Kotanidis.
An electoral threshold for the allocation of seats is the minimum percentage of votes that a political party or a coalition is required to collect in order to gain a seat in the legislative assembly. Thresholds are said to enable a better balance between governability and representativeness, by favouring the formation of stable majorities and avoiding excessive fragmentation of the legislative assembly. Thresholds are sometimes imposed by law, but in the absence of an explicit legal requirement, they can be the de facto result of the size of the constituency and the relevant electoral law determining the apportionment of seats between constituencies. Provisions for electoral thresholds are common in proportional electoral systems, which tend to favour multipartyism. Thresholds can, however, be problematic when they limit or impede the representation of regional parties and ethnic and linguistic minorities, for instance.
The current European Electoral Act contains a set of common principles to be upheld by the different domestic laws applicable to the election of the European Parliament. The original act of 1976 did not contain any provisions on minimum thresholds. Following modifications introduced in 2002, Article 3 allows Member States to set a minimum threshold for the allocation of seats; this must not exceed 5 % of the votes cast. More recently, a draft legislative act, adopted by the European Parliament in May 2022 and seeking to repeal the 1976 Act, proposes to modify Article 3. Member States would remain free to establish an electoral 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.
The electoral thresholds applied in the 2019 European elections ranged between 5 % of the valid votes cast, required in nine Member States (Czechia, France, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) and 1.8 %, required in Cyprus, while 14 Member States set no threshold. Italy, Austria and Sweden applied a 4 % threshold; and Greece 3 %. At the time of writing, it appears that these thresholds will still be applicable for the 2024 European elections.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Electoral thresholds in European Parliament elections‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.