Elections and Apportionment to the European Parliament

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  • 0:02 European Parliamentary…
  • 0:40 History
  • 2:06 Voting Regulations
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the election process to the European Parliament and the requirements placed on European Union nations to honor citizens' voting rights while at the same time honoring national differences.

European Parliamentary Elections

Election day is a great day in any democracy; it brings the community together and allows the people to let their beliefs and feelings be felt in the political process, for perhaps the only time all year. In the United States and elsewhere, there are various levels of government you can vote for, from city councilmen to the president to even judges or board members at the local state university.

However, there is one thing you can vote for in Europe and nowhere else - your representative to the supranational European Parliament. The rest of this lesson will detail the procedures for how this vote is conducted and how European parliamentary districts are apportioned.


Though citizens of the EU directly elect their representatives to the European Parliament, this was not always the case. The European Parliament existed in one form or another since the beginning of European cooperation in the early 1950s. For the first few decades of its existence, Members of European Parliament (or MEPs) were appointed by the government of each member state.

However, in 1976, this changed when the EEC (a forerunner to the EU) decided that the citizens of Europe should be able to directly elect their representatives to European Parliament. In 1979, the first direct elections were held for the European Parliament. They have been held every five years since then.

In the 1990s, the EU tried to standardize voting regulations across EU member nations. Unfortunately, this effort failed. The following decade, the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon enacted several measures that ensured voter rights. The right to vote and stand as a candidate for election became a fundamental right of all citizens of EU member nations.

Furthermore, if citizens happened to be living in a nation in which they were not a citizen, they were now entitled to vote or stand as an MEP candidate in the country of their residence, regardless of their citizenship. For example, if an Irishmen was living in Portugal and didn't have Portuguese citizenship, he was now allowed to vote in his local, Portuguese election for European Parliament.

Voting Regulations

Because of the failure in EU attempts to standardize voting procedures, voting regulations for European Parliament are still largely dictated by national governments. However, there are some basic guidelines which the EU has managed to impose. All voting systems in each EU country must be based on proportional representation for the election of delegates. States are further allowed to set minimum thresholds for population for each district, though the proportional threshold may not exceed 5%.

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