The election of the members of the European Parliament

The one of the most important institutes of the European Union is the European Parliament. In the following I will discuss how its members are elected.

The members of the European Parliament have been directly elected since 1979. Currently we are in the seventh term. There are 736 members, who represent 500 million Europeans.

Hungary became a member of the European Union in 2004. The first election for EP delegates was on 13th June in 2004. There was one term when our country was represented by 24 delegates. In the 2009 elections we only elected 22 delegates. They were held on 7th June in 2009.

By joining to the European Union countries relinquish some of their national sovereignty. Elections are an especially sensitive area, with the most delicate legal regulations. In accordance with this the European Union's electoral laws don't contain detailed rules but only determine the basic points of the electoral laws of the countries.

Which are the most important provisions? The first is the date of the election. The elections for members of the European Parliament must be held every five years on a day from Thursday till Sunday. In Hungary the elections are usually on Sundays.

According to the Union's regulations the EP elections must be arranged in an Electoral List system or in a single transferable vote system.

In Hungary there is an Electoral List system and whole country forms a single constituency. At the elections only parties can make a list. This list is fixed list which means that voters cannot change the order of the candidates on the lists, although the Union suggests that the member states use a preferential list which means that voters can determine the order for the seats in the EU Parliament.

The Union makes no proscriptions for methods of nomination. In Hungary parties who wish to make a list must collect a least 20 000 nominations. According to the Union regulations the limit to get a mandate must approach 5%. Hungary interprets this to mean that only parties which get more than 5% percent of valid votes receive a mandate.

The Union's law for promoting equal opportunities allow for the stipulation of an upper limit on the amount of money that can be spent on the electoral campaign. However Hungary does not take advantage of this possibility. Legal practice of suffrage in the EP elections is connected to citizenship or to permanent address: a voter whose address is in a different country from their nationality can choose in which country he or she would like to vote or participate as a delegate. For this purpose member nations exchange data about voters to avoid being any being on more than one country's list. Unfortunately this exchange is not free of problems but hopefully it will be from 2014.

To prevent one's country's election results having any kind of influence on another country's election there is a regulation that EP election results mustn't be announced until all of the elections have finished in all member countries. In practice this means that no official results or data may be announced until 10 o'clock pm central European time.

Low turnout for the EP elections is a problem throughout Europe. According to public opinion polls and the results of the EP elections it seems that for the European voters the EP elections are not as important as national and local elections. Due to this the electoral campaigns concentrate on domestic issues and make little mention of the European Union and the role of the European Parliament.

For this reason it is very important to emphasize the role of an impartial informative electoral campaign. Part of this means informing the voters about electoral procedures and governmental electoral organisations all around in Europe are devoting considerable efforts to this.

However this is not enough. Voter participation in the elections will only increase when the citizens of the Union realize the importance and the role of the European Union. Over a longer period of time this can only be achieved by education, continuous information and guidance. The collaboration of all members of the European Union is also necessary.

We can say that the 2009 EP elections in Hungary were performed in strict accordance with the law and the electoral organizations functioned to a high level of quality. In Hungary parliamentary and local governmental elections will be held in 2010, but the year 2014 will be really hard: following the parliamentary elections there will be EP elections and in October local governmental elections will also be held.

dr. Zsolt Berta