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Spotlight on EU elections: Fun facts and wide gaps across the bloc

Vincent Kessler, Reuters | Supporters attend a rally for the Renaissance (Renewal) list ahead of European elections, in Strasbourg, France, on May 11, 2019.

With more than 400 million Europeans heading to the polls next week in all 28 EU countries, FRANCE 24 crunches the numbers and dissects the facts behind what are actually more than two dozen strikingly different elections for the European Parliament.

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Europeans across the bloc are set to elect the 751 members of the European Union Parliament to new five-year terms.

A look at some of the figures behind the elections offers insight into the broad and persistent differences between EU member states, their motley representatives, and the Eurosceptic – or pro-European – inclinations of their electorates.

The elections themselves are, as usual, spread across four separate days, with the British and Dutch voting on May 23; the Irish on May 24; the Czechs on May 24 and 25; Latvia, Malta and Slovakia heading to the polls on May 25; and everyone else casting their ballots on May 26. To select their MEPs, the 28 member states also use three different voting systems (closed lists, preferential voting and single transferrable vote).

751 lawmakers for now

An initial batch of 751 MEPs will make up the next European Parliament with smaller countries such as Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus having six each, while Germany gets 96.

The EU Parliament and the European Council had decided to thin the chamber’s ranks to 705 in anticipation of the United Kingdom’s departure, originally slated for March 29. However, Britain’s deferred Brexit saga has forced it to hold European elections for the UK’s 50 million voters who are still European citizens despite the original March departure date and thus entitled to their 73 lawmakers at the European Parliament.

Attendees wait to listen to speakers, including Brexit party leader Nigel Farage, ahead of a rally ahead of European elections in Fylde, United Kingdom, on May 4, 2019.
Attendees wait to listen to speakers, including Brexit party leader Nigel Farage, ahead of a rally ahead of European elections in Fylde, United Kingdom, on May 4, 2019. Oli Scarff, AFP

When (or if) the UK leaves the bloc, those 73 parliamentarians will exit too, to be replaced but only in part by 27 members elected from other member states. France, for example, will elect 79 MEPs on May 26, five more than it has now, but those five will have to wait for Britain to officially leave the EU before taking their seats. France, along with Spain, stands to gain the most new seats from Britain’s exit while others will see no change.

Last turnout at 42.6 percent, with wide gaps

Voter enthusiasm for European elections has waned steadily in the eight such events since 1979, when Europeans began electing their representatives directly. In that first poll 40 years ago, 61.8 percent of eligible voters in what was then nine EU members turned out. But in the last European elections of 2014, only 42.6 percent of voters in the 28-member bloc cast their vote.

But looking at the turnout in individual countries tells a more nuanced story. In 2014, 74.8 percent of Maltese voted while only 13.8 percent of Slovaks did. Four member states have compulsory voting, like Belgium (89.6 percent turnout). Although even with mandatory voting, only 60 percent of Greeks took part in the previous election.

Voters dressed in traditional costumes of the German Black Forest arrive to cast their ballots for the European Parliament elections on May 25, 2014at a polling station in Hornberg-Reichenbach, Germany.
Voters dressed in traditional costumes of the German Black Forest arrive to cast their ballots for the European Parliament elections on May 25, 2014at a polling station in Hornberg-Reichenbach, Germany. Patrick Seeger/DPA/AFP

Teenage voters

Four EU states – Czech Republic, Ireland, Malta and Slovakia – don’t allow their nationals living abroad to vote in European Parliament elections, while elsewhere rules vary.

Three EU states permit minors to vote, with Austria and Malta granting 16-year-olds a say and Greece giving 17-year-olds a voice.

The age limits for eligible candidates also vary. Most EU states set the minimum age for standing in these elections at 18 or 21, but Romania (23), Italy and Greece (both 25) set the bar higher.

Age gap
MEPs Tom Vandenkendelaere, 28 (L) and Jean-Marie Le Pen, 90 (R) European Parliament

While the average MEP is 55 years of age, the age-range is wide. The youngest lawmaker in this outgoing parliament is 28-year-old Belgian Tom Vandenkendelaere, while thedoyen is French far-right figure Jean-Marie Le Pen. At 90, the National Front founder is not standing for re-election in 2019.

Wild disparities among women in office

The proportion of women sitting in the European Parliament has more than doubled since the first directly elected MEPs took office in 1979. Women remain short of parity in the chamber, but their numbers have always exceeded the average number of seats held by women in the bloc’s national parliaments. Forty years ago, women made up 16.3 percent of elected European lawmakers. By 2014, that figure had climbed to 36.9 percent.

Gender parity among member states also varies wildly. In the outgoing session, 76.9 percent of Finland’s MEPs are women compared to 16.7 percent for Estonia and Cyprus. In the May 2014 elections, nine EU member states had put gender quotas in place. Perhaps significantly, none of those lagging in female representation had imposed quotas – but then, neither did Finland.

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