Following a debate on 27th October, the European Parliament has adopted a proposal for a set of reforms to the EU Electoral Act with 315 votes in favour, 234 against and 55 abstentions. The Parliament believes that the 1976 act needs to be updated to reflect the new European reality and has moreover suggested that differences in national rules are causing an imbalance for EU citizens.
Indeed, some rather striking divergences appear when you consider the EU as a whole. Voting methods are one area in which important differences arise: while the majority of EU Member States offer some sort of long-distance voting option – be it by post, by proxy, at embassies or electronically – for citizens living abroad, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Malta and Slovakia had no such provisions in place for the 2014 elections.
The Parliament is therefore calling for electronic, online and postal-voting systems to be made available in all EU Member States so that any EU citizen living abroad who wishes to cast his vote may do so. Moreover, in an attempt to prevent double-voting (by people with more than one citizenship or by EU citizens living abroad), MEPs would like EU countries to exchange data on voters.
Another area which the Parliament believes needs improvement is the minimum threshold for MEPs to be elected. Currently, 14 Member States have no thresholds in place, including several large states. The Parliament is calling for the introduction of mandatory thresholds ranging from 3 to 5% of the vote for larger countries. If this were to pass, both Spain and Germany would have to introduce the new measures.
The need to attract younger voters is a further area of concern for some MEPs and has led to calls for electoral systems to be updated to allow for online voting.
Corapporteur Jo Leinen (S&D, DE) said: “The young generation should be encouraged to take part in these elections. The internet generation prefers to vote online, with one click, rather than going to a town hall or a school.”
He also highlighted issues relating to the often short time periods between the establishment of voting lists and election days: “In some countries, the electoral lists are not completed until 17 days before the elections. I do not know how it is possible to campaign.” To counteract this problem, the parliament has voted for electoral lists to be finalised at least 12 weeks before elections.
In general, the Parliament believes that more visibility should be given to candidates’ political affiliations and it is calling for ballot papers used in European elections to give equal room for the names and logos of their national and European political parties. In terms of the election of the Commission president, the Parliament is advocating the introduction of formally endorsed, EU-wide lead candidates, which it believes should stand for election to the Parliament themselves and be formally nominated at the latest 12 weeks before the elections. MEPs have also suggested instituting a cross border joint European constituency, whereby lists would be headed by each political group’s nominee for the post of president of the Commission.
While the Parliament has the right to initiate a procedure to draw up proposals to reform European electoral procedures, it does not have the final word. These proposals will therefore need to be endorsed unanimously by the Council and then approved by all of the EU’s Member States before any of these changes could come into effect.