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The European Parliament electoral system explained

In the intricate web of European Union politics, the European Parliament stands as a key institution representing the voices of citizens across the continent. However, understanding how this parliamentary body is elected and why the number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) varies from country to country can be a puzzling affair. Let’s delve into the European Parliament electoral system to shed some light on these questions.

How is the European Parliament elected?

The European Parliament is elected every five years by citizens of the European Union through voting. It is therefore the only body of the European Union that is directly elected by EU voters. Here is a breakdown of the procedure:

  1. Member state elections: Member states of the European Union hold elections to choose their representatives in the European Parliament. Each country sets its own rules for the voting process, including the voting age, whether voting is mandatory or optional, and the method of voting.
  2. Electoral system: Each member state has the flexibility to opt for its preferred voting system: the party list or the single transferable vote system. Additionally, the electoral threshold, which is the minimum percentage of votes required to secure representation, should not surpass 5%.
  3. Allocation of seats: Seats in the European Parliament are allocated to each party in every member state according to proportional representation. This means that parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.
  4. Allocation to political groups: MEPs elected from each member state then join political groups within the European Parliament based on shared ideologies or affiliations. These groups work together to influence legislation and shape EU policies.

Why is there a different number of MEPs for each country?

The number of MEPs allocated to each country is primarily determined by population size. Larger countries with higher populations, such as Germany and France, are granted more MEPs to ensure their citizens are adequately represented in the European Parliament. A total of 720 MEPs will be elected in 2024.

However, to ensure a fair balance of seats among member states, they are distributed using the principle of degressive proportionality. This means that although population size is considered, smaller states receive a higher number of MEPs than what would be strictly proportional to their populations. This ensures that their voices are heard and that their interests are adequately represented in the European Union's legislative body.

The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in 2009, established the current system for allocating seats in the European Parliament. It stipulates that no member state should have fewer than six or more than ninety-six MEPs, ensuring a balance between small and large countries while upholding the principle of proportional representation.

By being the only directly elected body of the European Union, the European Parliament is the cornerstone of European democracy. Understanding how its electoral system works and why the number of seats varies among countries is essential for grasping the dynamics of EU politics and governance. While member states retain some flexibility in conducting their elections, adherence to EU regulations and principles is paramount. The distribution of Members of Parliament reflects, to a large extent, the population size of each country, ensuring representation while mitigating dominance by larger nations.