The dawn of a new day for European elections?

  Articoli (Articles)
  Irene Boggio
  14 September 2022
  4 minutes, 38 seconds

On Tuesday the 3rd of May, the European Parliament plenary gathered in Strasbourg adopted a legislative resolution proposing a Council regulation on the direct election of the members of the EP, intended to overhaul the rules currently governing European elections. The draft regulation approved by the EP plenary – by 323 votes for, 262 against, and 48 abstentions – would repeal Council Decision 76/787 and the so-called Electoral Act annexed to that Decision.

These are the pieces of EU legislation currently regulating European elections, along with Council Decision 2002/772 and Council Decision 2018/994, both amending the 1976 "Electoral Act”. These following paragraphs aim at retracing the history of how these rules came about, so as to set the scene for a subsequent examination of the reform recently approved by the plenary.

From the appointment of members to their direct election, and the search for a “uniform procedure”

Adopted back in 1976, the “Electoral Act” annexed to Council Decision 76/787 first established that the members of the EP (then still officially referred to as “the Assembly”) would be elected by direct universal suffrage, for a five-year term. The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, signed in Rome in 1957, had depicted the Assembly as being composed of delegates appointed by the national parliaments of the Member States and chosen among national parliamentarians, but it had also called on the Assembly to work on projects aimed at making it an elective body. The projects – the Treaty specified – would need to provide for the representatives to be elected by direct universal suffrage according to a procedure uniformly applied in all Member States.

Only in 1976 a proposal for the direct election of the members of the Assembly succeeded in finding unanimous approval from the Council (as the EEC Treaty required for the proposal to be turned into law). The 1976 “Electoral Actdidn’t establish a uniform procedure, though: instead, it entrusted the Assembly with the task of drawing up a proposal for a uniform electoral procedure and established that, pending its entry into force, European elections would be held in every country according to the applicable national provisions.

Then, twenty years went by without a uniform procedure being adopted. That’s why when the Amsterdam Treaty was drafted, in 1996, a decision was made to revise the Treaty text so as to provide the EP and the Council with the option not to devise a uniform electoral procedure, but to set some “common principles” that the procedures followed in each Member State would need to conform to. These were then introduced in 2002, by Council Decision 2002/772, which amended the 1976 “Electoral Act” and set the principles currently governing European elections. They include, among others, a requirement for the MEPs to be elected on the basis of proportional representation, the incompatibility between the office of member of the EP and that of member of a national parliament, the possibility for the electoral system adopted by each Member State to provide for the partition of the national territory into constituencies, or of setting a minimum threshold for the allocation of seats (but never exceeding 5% of votes cast).

The 1976 Act was amended once again in 2018, by Council Decision 2018/994, but the act still hasn’t entered into force as not all Member States have approved it in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements – as mandated by article 223 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). Article 223 TFEU indeed tasks the EP with drawing up proposals to lay down the provisions necessary for the election of its Members, the Council with adopting these provisions by unanimity (after having obtained the consent of the EP), and Member States with approving them based on their constitutional requirements. Only then the new rules can enter into force.

This same iter applies to the legislative resolution adopted by the EP plenary on the 3rd of May: the draft Council regulation the resolution proposes will have to be taken into examination by the Council, any amendment made to the EP’s proposal will need to be approved by the EP (more precisely, by the majority of its members) and finally, the Council will need to reach unanimous agreement on the final text. The new provisions would then come into force only when, and if, all Member States approved them. It cannot be ensured, therefore, that the reform the plenary has agreed to will turn into law.

The fact itself that the EP plenary succeeded in approving it by a majority vote of 323 to 262, however, is undoubtedly remarkable and justifies the attention the news has attracted thus far. Scholars and policy-makers have been discussing for years about reforming European elections – and about some of the measures the EP’s proposal provides for, such as the introduction of transnational lists for the election of a restricted pool of MEPs – without a true reform ever ensuing. This time, we seem to stand a chance of seeing true change be implemented.

What change the EP’s draft regulation entails will be the topic of a second part, due for publication on the 2nd of June.

Cover image_ Dominique Hommel, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons (

Share the post


Irene Boggio


European elections European Parliament EP uniform procedure common principles