Upcoming European elections: Answers to questions that underline the importance to vote

 Europese vlag wappert boven gebouwen in Den Haag
Photo: Corentin for Unsplash

Blog by Koen Carbaat, May 2024

A recent survey by the European Parliament (EP) showed that 70% of the European Union citizens believe that the EU’s actions have an impact on their daily lives. Moreover, if elections for the EP were held at the moment of writing, 68% said they would be likely to vote. Unfortunately, this sentiment has not been reflected in the actual turnout across Europe, with only 50% of the eligible voters casting their ballot in 2019. While the current figures look very positive, it is still crucial to explain the importance for every EU citizen of casting their vote. Therefore, this blogpost aims to answer key questions related to the upcoming European elections.

For what institution will I be casting my vote?

From June 6th until June 9th, 2024, Europe will head to the polls to elect a new EP. The EP is one of the seven institutions of the EU. The EP has several significant roles, with the most important tasks being to negotiating and adopting legislation at the EU level, as well as determining the EU’s long-term and annual budgets. It  mainly performs these tasks together with two other EU institutions, those being the Council and  the Commission.

After the upcoming elections, the EP will consist of 720 members, who are directly elected for the term of five years. These members will be representatives of all EU citizens. In other words, a member of the EP (MEP) with a German nationality will equally represent a German national, as it would a Romanian or Latvian national.

When can I vote?

The elections will take place between the 6th and 9th of June this year. It is up to each Member State to decide on which of these days the election will take place, so please check here for yourself when it will be held in the Member State where you will vote.

Similarly, when it comes to the eligibility of voters, Member States themselves determine at what age a person is eligible to vote. In general, the voting age is 18 in most Member States. However, there are 5 exceptions: in Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Malta the voting age is 16, and in Greece it is 17.

Who can I vote for?

Every citizen of the EU has the protected fundamental right to vote for the EP and to stand as a candidate at the elections to the EP. To ensure that this essential right is properly protected, there are concurring rules in place for all Member States to follow. It is, however, important to stress that these rules only apply to elections for the EP.

With this in mind, some interesting points must be discussed. First of all, if an EU citizen is currently living in a Member State other than the one they are a national of, they would still have the right to vote and stand as a candidate in the Member State they are residing in. If one decided to stand as a candidate in that situation, they would do so in the Member State in which they reside. It is possible for Member States to set rules on when people can vote or stand as candidates. However, these rules may not differ from those that apply to their nationals. Also, it should be noted that the right to vote or stand as a candidate at elections to the EP may be restricted if someone has been deprived of this right by a criminal or civil law decision.

Moreover, an EU citizen residing in a host Member State must declare his or her intention to vote. There is an obligation for Member States to facilitate in this intention, but it is left up to the Member States how this intention should be declared.

To eventually become a candidate, one must declare his intention to become a candidate at the electoral council of the Member State they want to run for. Member States can have certain conditions in place that must be fulfilled before one can stand as a candidate, but again these cannot differ from the conditions that apply to its nationals. Furthermore, it is left up to the Member States whether it is only possible to stand through a political party or whether it is also possible to stand as an independent as long as it allows for elections based on a list system.

What happens after I vote?

The EU uses so-called proportional representation as an electoral system. This means that candidates are elected by voting for a certain candidate from a specific political party. If that party obtains 25% of the votes, it will get 25% of the available seats as well.

Accordingly, each Member State gets a predetermined number of seats in the EP. The number of seats each Member State gets, is determined by its demographic.  In other words, the more inhabitants a Member State has, the more seats it gets in the EP. However, it should be emphasised that there is a minimum and maximum number of seats a Member State can have, with the maximum being 96 and the minimum being 6.

Once national parties get into the EP, they will enter into groupings with parties from other Member States which have similar ideas.

Why is voting so important?

As already mentioned, the right to vote is a protected, fundamental right. It is so important because voting allows people to express their opinions on societal issues  by voting for a person or a party that one resonates with. In turn, the elected representatives in the EP play a pivotal role in shaping the EU’s actions. This includes its role in the legislative process as well non legislative actions, such as performing research by setting up inquiries through the European Ombudsperson, and supervising the compliance of other EU institutions and agencies with EU law.

The EP's role in the legislative procedure is arguably its most important task. Indeed, together with the Council, the EP is one of the two institutions that adopts a legislative proposal that is prepared by the Commission. The EU derives its powers from its 27 Member States. If the EU wants to act, it should do so within the competences granted to the EU. Competences are given to the EU in the EU Treaties and there can be an exclusive, shared, or supplementary competence for the EU. Although it is difficult to assess exactly how much impact the EU law has on the national legal orders of its Member States, it is accepted that the influence of EU law on national law of the member states is increasing.

Hence, due to the increasing influence of EU law on national law, combined with the central role of the EP in the legislative process, the importance of casting your vote and having an influence on key decisions taken at the European level cannot be stressed enough!

Will I vote?

Whether one votes or not is something that they should decide for themselves. However, the influential role of the EU is felt by 70% of EU citizens in their daily live  and now, there is an opportunity for EU citizens to voice their opinions and influence the vital decisions that are being made at the EU level.

Because your vote matters - no matter who or what you vote for!