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Elections in the European Union take place every five years by universal adult suffrage. 736 MEPs are elected to the European Parliamentmarker which has been directly elected since 1979. No other body is directly elected although the Council of the European Union and European Council is largely composed of nationally elected officials.

Voting system

There is no uniform voting system for the election of MEPs; rather, each member state is free to choose its own system, subject to three restrictions:

The United Kingdommarker divides itself into twelve constituencies, these being the nine regions of England, and the three countries of Scotlandmarker, Walesmarker, and Northern Irelandmarker. The mainland constituencies (which include Gibraltarmarker) use proportional representation from closed lists using the D'Hondt method . Northern Irelandmarker uses the single transferable vote .

The allocation of seats to each member state is based on the principle of degressive proportionality, so that, while the size of the population of each country is taken into account, smaller states elect more MEPs than would be strictly justified by their populations alone. As the number of MEPs granted to each country has arisen from treaty negotiations, there is no precise formula for the apportionment of seats among member states. No change in this configuration can occur without the unanimous consent of all governments.

As of January 2009, the political debate in Italy sees a wide parliamentary majority, including Berlusconi's PdL and Veltroni's Partito Democratico, converging on the introduction of a 4% election threshold for the election of Italian MEPs, where the previous electoral law featured no threshold.

Political groups

The European Union has a multi-party system. Often no one party has a chance of gaining power alone, and parties must work with each other to form coalitions known as "groups". However it should be noted that as no government is formed as a result of the elections, there are no permanent, formal coalitions.

The two major parties are the centre-right European People's Party and socialist Party of European Socialists. They form the two largest groups, (called EPP and S&D respectively) along with other smaller parties. There are numerous other groups including communists, greens, regionalists, conservatives, Liberals and eurosceptics. Together they form the seven recognised groups in the parliament. MEPs that are not members of groups are known as non-inscrits.

Voter behaviour

It has been a common belief among analysis that European elections are fought on national issues and used by voters to punish their governments mid-term. Turnout has also been falling steadily since the first elections in 1979 indicating increased apathy about the Parliament despite its increase in power over that period. The turnout is an increasingly big issue. Despite falling below 50% since 1999, turnout is not yet as low as that of the US Midterm elections which usually fall below 40%.The turnout has fallen in every EU election since the first. In 2009, the overall turnout was just 43%, down from 45.5% in 2004. In Britain the turnout was just 34.3%, down from 38% in 2004.However that situation is not criticised so much due to the fact the US President is elected separately, whereas the EU Commission President is appointed. Some such as former Parliament President Pat Cox has also noted that the 1999 election turnout was higher than the previous US Presidential election. It is hoped though that by more closely linking that post to the elections, turnout should increase.


Historical percentage results in union-wide elections of the three major groups by region.[[File:EP Groups 1979-2009.png|thumb|450px|EP political groups, 1979 to 2009.

REGION 1979 1984 1989 1994 1999 2004 2009
3.6 6.3 6.3 22 35.3 31.2 ?
Northern 3.6 2.7 4.5 6.8 16.7 18.1 ?
23.2 33 45.5 56.8 27.6 23.9 ?
33.6 30.9 26.7 31.9 36.4 34.9 ?
Western 6.5 10.6 12 8.5 5.2 11.9 ?
34.1 32.7 32.7 29.9 27.9 30.2 ?
37 34.3 29.6 25.9 39.8 38.2 ?
Southern 6.2 4.8 9.5 8.5 5 7.9 ?
16 21 29.1 29.9 30.8 33 ?
- - - - - 46.4 ?
Eastern - - - - - 14.3 ?
- - - - - 21.4 ?
26 25.3 23.4 27.7 37.2 36.9 ?
Total 9.8 7.1 9.5 7.6 8 12.4 ?
27.6 30 34.2 34.9 28.8 28.3 ?
Turnout 63 61 58.5 56.8 49.4 45.5 43

Legend:   [     ] Socialist (PES) - [     ] Liberal (ELDR -2004- ALDE) - [     ] People's (EPP -1994- EPP-ED)

Northern , , , and
Western , , , , and ,
Southern , , , , and
Eastern , , , , , , , , and

List of elections

List of all union-wide elections and by-elections;

Commission President

Election Largest Group President Party
1994 PES Jacques Santer EPP
1999 EPP-ED Romano Prodi PES
2004 EPP-ED José Manuel Barroso EPP
The third Delors Commission had a short mandate, in order to bring the terms of the Commissionmarker in line with that of the Parliament. Under the European Constitution the European Council would have to take into account the results of the latest European elections and, furthermore, the Parliament would ceremonially "elect", rather than simply approve, the Council's proposed candidate. This was taken as the parliament's cue to have its parties run with candidates for the President of the European Commission with the candidate of the winning party being proposed by the Council.

This was partly put into practice in 2004 when the European Council selected a candidate from the political party which won that year's election. However at that time only one party had run with a specific candidate: the European Green Party, who had the first true pan-European political party with a common campaign, put forward Daniel Cohn-Bendit. However the fractious nature of the other political parties led to no other candidates, the People's Party only mentioned four or five people they'd like to be President. The Constitution failed ratification but these amendments have been carried over to the Treaty of Lisbon which is planned to come into force in 2009. There are plans to strengthen the European political parties in order for them to propose candidates for the 2009 election. The European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party have already indicated, in their October 2007 congress, their intention for forward a candidate for the post as part of a common campaign.

In February 2008, President Barroso admitted there was a problem in legitimacy and that, despite having the same legitimacy as Prime Ministers in theory, in practice it was not the case. The low turnout creates a problem for the President's legitimacy, with the lack of a "European political sphere", but analysis claim that if citizens were voting for a list of candidates for the post of President, turn out would be much higher than that seen in recent years.

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