COM(2015) 206 final
COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
Report on the 2014 European Parliament elections
The 2014 European Parliament elections were the first to take place since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and were fundamentally different from those which preceded them. For the first time, a direct link was established between the outcome of the elections and the appointment of the European Commission President. The European political families nominated candidates for President of the European Commission for the first time, and the candidate who was able to command a majority in the newly formed European Parliament became President of the European Commission. The European Council nominated the candidate of the party with most seats in the European Parliament, who was subsequently elected as European Commission President by the European Parliament.
This report reviews the 2014 elections, including measures taken to enhance their transparency, democratic conduct and the European dimension. It assesses citizens’ awareness of the elections and the associated rights, action taken by Member States and EU institutions in this respect, and actual turnout. It also looks at the enforcement of EU citizens’ electoral rights.
The report is based on recent Eurobarometer and other surveys, information provided by Member States in reply to Commission questionnaires and a Commissionauthorised study which collected and analysed qualitative and quantitative data, including through interviews with European political parties, national authorities, media and other stakeholders.
The 2014 elections stemmed the steady fall in overall turnout since the first direct European elections in 1979. These elections have laid the ground for future European elections and established a clear link between the results of the European Parliament elections and the choice of European Commission President. An important precedent has been set for 2019 and beyond, and a European-level forum for political debate has been established.
A Transparent Election Process
A direct link between the citizens’ vote and the election of the Commission President
The Lisbon Treaty established a new constitutional order for the European Union, with the European Parliament being empowered to elect the candidate for President of the European Commission proposed by the European Council, taking into account the results of the European elections. In light of this new situation, on 12 March 2013, the Commission issued a Recommendation on enhancing the democratic and efficient conduct of the elections to the European Parliament. It called on European political parties to nominate candidates for the position of Commission President, against the background of the Lisbon Treaty, which strengthened the role of the Parliament in relation to the Commission.
This recommendation aimed at making the link between EU citizens’ votes for prospective Members of the European Parliament and their party's candidate for Commission President visible. Furthermore, the Commission encouraged national political parties to use their political broadcasts to promote their lead candidates and their programmes. The Parliament also adopted resolutions on the 2014 elections to this effect.
Five European political parties proposed candidates for the Commission Presidency:
the European People’s Party (EPP) nominated Jean-Claude Juncker;
the Party of European Socialists (PES) nominated Martin Schulz;
the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE) nominated Guy Verhofstadt;
the European Green Party nominated José Bové and Franziska Keller; and
the Party of the European Left nominated Alexis Tsipras.
These parties launched EU-wide election campaigns and held public events across Europe to raise awareness of their candidates and their political programmes for Europe. The candidates visited 246 cities across the Member States. The following table shows the Member States visited:
In addition to being mobilised in this way on the ground, the lead candidates took part in ten televised debates in different Member States and different languages, sharing their vision for the future of Europe and on issues, such as jobs and growth, that particularly matter to voters.
The debates received wide coverage across the EU. In particular, the final debate between the lead candidates on 15 May was broadcast live in 28 countries, aired by at least 152 media outlets (including 55 TV channels and 88 websites) and generated high volumes of social media traffic.
15% of the respondents to a post-election survey covering 15 EU countries said that they had watched at least one of the TV debates.
A more visible link between national and European political parties
As European political parties are best placed to ‘contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the will of citizens of the Union’, the Commission made two recommendations, which were generally welcomed by Member States and European political parties, to make the links between the political families at European and national level more visible:
Member States should encourage and facilitate in their electoral system, the provision of information on affiliations between national and European political parties, including by allowing these to be indicated on ballot papers; and
national political parties should make their affiliation to European political parties publicly known ahead of the elections and display it prominently in all campaign material, communications and political broadcasts.
As regards the first recommendation (i), 16 Member States indicated that they had taken measures to inform national political parties of the recommendation that they should make their affiliation to European political parties publicly known. This mainly involved the authorities communicating the Commission’s Recommendation to the political parties. In some cases, more intensive efforts were made. In Greece, national authorities organised a meeting in the national parliament to inform parties of the Recommendation. In Italy and Finland, guidelines were issued to make national parties aware of the Recommendation and encourage them to follow it.
Nine Member States allowed national parties to indicate their affiliation to European parties on ballot papers, by introducing laws (if such a law was not already in place) allowing the European party’s name or logo to be included on the ballot paper.
Six Member States indicated that they did not take any such action, either because they considered that providing information to the electorate was a matter for the political parties or because action by the authorities would constitute interference prohibited by their electoral law.
As regards the second recommendation (ii), national political parties took various measures to publicise their affiliation to European political parties. The overall picture emerging from research involving a sample of the over 500 national parties affiliated to European parties is as follows:
Most of the national parties in the sample made their affiliation visible in a limited way only, i.e. essentially in their printed election material. This meant that the affiliation was more visible for better informed citizens than for the general public;
The research identified only a small number of parties that took comprehensive action, by mentioning their affiliation to European parties both in written material, such as manifestos, posters, websites and social media, and in speeches, TV debates and campaigning events;
The research also identified that a few parties did not publicise affiliation to a European political party, either because they had yet to decide whether to affiliate or because they had decided not to.
The recommendation that affiliation to European parties be displayed on ballot papers was followed only exceptionally, even in the Member States where this was possible.
Increased focus on EU issues
Both the Commission and the Parliament took measures before and during the electoral campaign to raise citizens’ awareness of how the elections would impact their lives. Efforts were made to highlight the relevance of EU issues, which could otherwise have been overshadowed by national and local topics in the debates in the Member States. The percentage of EU citizens who said they had all the information they needed to vote increased slightly compared to the outcome in 2009 (57 %, as compared with 53 % in 2009).
In the course of 2013 and 2014, Members of the Commission, together with local or national politicians and Members of the European Parliament, held 51 town hall-style public dialogues with citizens throughout Europe about their expectations for the future of Europe and what is needed to strengthen the democratic structures of the Union.
The Citizens’ Dialogues highlighted the European dimension of local problems and the local dimension of European policy issues, and how the European elections influence the daily lives of citizens. 87% of the participants said they would vote in the European elections.
The Commission made use of the funding tools at its disposal to support civil society and town-twinning projects aimed at promoting the democratic participation of EU citizens. The Europe for Citizens Programme and the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship programme funded several projects raising awareness and seeking to empower citizens as regards their participation in the democratic life of the EU.
The European Parliament’s awareness-raising campaign
On 11 September 2013, the European Parliament launched an information campaign entitled Act. React. Impact. One of the main aims was to generate an EU-focused debate on issues of EU-wide relevance, such as the economy, jobs, quality of life and the EU’s role in the world.
This campaign had a significant impact in the media. The Parliament website dedicated to the elections was visited 7.1 million times between December 2013 and May 2014. A European elections video was produced in 34 languages and broadcast over 7 400 times on 173 TV channels. There were 11 million online views. Roughly one in five European voters was reached via Facebook. The ‘I voted’ message on Facebook was shared more than 2.7 million times and seen by nearly 90 million people.
In addition, the Parliament organised ReACT conferences in Paris, Frankfurt, Warsaw, Rome and Madrid with the participation of citizens, experts and European politicians. During these events, EU citizens could share their views on the main issues raised in the campaign.
Common voting day
In order to heighten voters’ sense of being involved in a common European endeavour, the Commission had encouraged Member States to agree on a common voting day for the European elections, with polling stations closing at the same time.
In this respect, there was no change as compared with the previous elections. In 21 Member States, the elections were held on 25 May and in seven they took place between 22 and 24 May. All Member States announced their results around the same time, during the evening of 25 May, when ballots had closed across Europe.
Participation in the elections
Since the first direct elections in 1979, turnout in European elections had fallen steadily from 61.99 % in 1979 to 42.97 % in 2009. However, overall participation in the 2014 elections was only marginally lower than in 2009, dropping by 0.36 % (to 42.61 %), as compared with steeper drops of 2.5 % between 2004 and 2009 and 4 % between 1999 and 2004. Thus, the downward trend was significantly stemmed. For comparison, the turnout in the presidential elections in the United States was 57.1 % in 2008 and 54.9 % in 2012.
The following table shows overall EU turnout in successive European elections:
Turnout varied significantly across the 28 Member States. It was as high as 89.64 % in Belgium, 59.97 % in Greece (voting is mandatory in both) and 57.22 % in Italy, but considerably lower in other countries, such as the Czech Republic (18.20 %) and Slovakia (13.05 %).
The following table shows voter turnout for the European elections in 2009 and 2014 in the EU and by Member State:
Turnout was higher among men than women (45 % and 41 % respectively), with the gap widening slightly as compared with 2009 (44 % against 42 %).
Younger people were the largest group of abstainers: only 27.8 % of 18-24 year-olds voted, as compared with 51.3 % in the 55+ agegroup.
The table below compares the percentages of young people (aged 18-24) who voted in each Member State:
A report assessing the Erasmus project found a strong correlation between experience of studying abroad and voting behaviour in the 2014 European elections: Erasmus alumni were more likely to vote – 81 % of those responding said they had done so.
Respondents to the Parliament’s post-election survey said that the main reason they voted was that they always vote (41 %), their ‘duty as a citizen’ (41 %) or ‘to support a political party to which I feel close’ (22 %). The three following factors were also mentioned: ‘I am in favour of the EU’ (14 %), ‘I feel European (13 %) and ‘I can make things change by voting in the European elections’ (12 %). 5 % indicated that they voted to influence the choice of Commission President.
As regards reasons for not voting, the most popular answers were ‘lack of trust in politics in general’ (23 %), ‘not interested in politics’ (19 %) and ‘my vote has no consequences’ (14 %). 7 % cited the fact that they ‘do not know much about the EU or the European Parliament or the European Parliament elections’. The percentage of abstainers referring to both types of reason, i.e. the perception that voting does not change anything and lack of knowledge about the EU or the European elections, fell in comparison with the previous elections. Also, the number of citizens who abstained due to a lack of public debate or electoral campaigning was halved. The ultimate decision as to whether to vote or abstain traditionally depends on a whole range of factors, some of which are personal and unrelated to the quality of the campaign or perceptions of the European elections.
In countries where the European elections took place at the same time as other national or nationwide elections (Belgium, Lithuania, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta and the United Kingdom), voter turnout was higher than elsewhere, but the political debate tended to be dominated by national topics. In Lithuania, the European elections were held on the same day as the presidential elections and turnout rose to 47 %, from only 21 % in 2009.
Participation of EU citizens residing in another Member State than their own
EU citizens who live in another Member State than their own (mobile EU citizens) have the right to vote and stand as candidates in European elections in the host Member State under the same conditions as that State’s nationals. This right, enshrined in Article 22 TFEU and Article 39 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, is given concrete effect in Directive 93/109/EC.
A relatively low number of mobile EU citizens made use of their right to vote in their Member State of residence. The rates of their participation may be influenced by the fact that they have to choose whether to vote in their Member State of origin or in the Member State to which they have moved (i.e. for different sets of candidates). A 2012 Eurobarometer survey showed that people are divided on the candidates and lists they prefer to vote for in European elections. About 48 % said that, if living in a Member State other than their own, they would prefer to vote there, while 42 % would still prefer to exercise their right to vote in their home country.
The following table outlines the proportion of non-nationals (who are mobile EU citizens) registered to vote in the European elections in 2009 and 2014 in the EU and by Member State:
While still low, the number of mobile EU citizens who stood as candidates in their Member State of residence more than doubled, from 81 in 2009 to 170 in 2014. This could be attributed to the new simplified procedures introduced by Directive 2013/1/EU, which means that candidates no longer have to provide proof that they have not been deprived of their electoral rights in their home Member State, but only have to make a declaration to that effect, to be verified by the authorities in the host Member State.
Awareness and engagement of EU citizens
Member States took various approaches to their awareness-raising campaigns: some carried out general campaigns, covering the whole electorate, while others also specifically targeted EU citizens from other Member States residing in their territory.
Increasing participation by non-national EU voters – examples of best practice
Individual letters to non-national EU citizens of voting age, with explanations on the exercise of their voting rights and the registration form, were sent in several EU languages in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden.
In Greece, a special application was set up on a ministry’s website whereby nonnational EU citizens could find their entry in the special electoral rolls and the polling station where they could vote.
Civil society organisations were actively involved in efforts to mobilise voters, e.g. they informed citizens about the importance and benefit of participating in the European elections they made e-tools available to help voters select a candidate matching their preferences or worked towards more inclusive policies to ensure access for persons with disabilities.
Examples of NGO projects funded by the Programme Europe for Citizens
Enabling EU citizens to reflect on, discuss, exchange on European issues, including with candidates, and make an informed choice in the elections:
JoiEU: Joint Citizen Action for a Stronger, Citizen-friendly Union (European Citizen Action service - ECAS).
The 2014 Transeuropa Caravans: transnational citizens' engagement with the European Parliament elections (European Alternatives)
Encouraging Young Europeans to Vote Out the EU Democratic Deficit (International Management Institute).
With specific regard to mobile EU citizens, several NGOs carried out campaigns to mobilise them and generally raise their awareness of their electoral rights. Other projects focused on encouraging women across the EU to vote and stand as candidates in the European elections.
Examples of NGO projects funded by the Programme on Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Campaigns encouraging participation by mobile EU citizens:
Action taken included work with associations, awareness-raising projects, the development of training tools and support in completing voting formalities.
‘Operation Vote’ (Cooperazione per lo Sviluppo dei paesi – COSPE);
‘Access to rights & civil dialogue for ALL’ (Pour la Solidarité);
‘All citizens now’ (University of Chieti-Pescara).
Politicians and voters were able to interact directly, thanks to the increased social media activity around the elections, the lead candidates and their programmes. An analysis of the #EP2014 and #EU14 digital campaigns tracked around three million tweets about the elections. Over a million were sent in the week of the election itself. The increased use of social media provided candidates with an additional means of reaching out to citizens and gave voters more of an opportunity to engage actively in the debate, rather than just casting their vote.
EU citizens’ exercise of their electoral rights and respect of common principles
Safeguarding the electoral rights of EU citizens residing in a Member State other than their own
The right of mobile EU citizens to vote and stand as candidates in their Member State of residence
The Commission carried out a comprehensive exercise ahead of the elections to ensure correct and full transposition and application of Directive 93/109/EC so as to eliminate possible obstacles to EU citizens’ exercise of their right to vote and, in particular, to ensure that national laws imposed no additional requirements on EU citizens from other Member States. By May 2014, all transposition issues that the Commission had identified before the elections were successfully addressed and national legislation amended where necessary.
The Commission has since been in dialogue with the UK authorities on a number of issues reported by EU citizens residing in the UK who wanted to register to vote there. On 14 November 2014, the House of Commons published a report that took note of the UK Electoral Commission’s position regarding specific barriers that EU citizens faced in participating in the elections. The report recommended simplifying the system and running a campaign to inform EU citizens of the relevant registration conditions and arrangements.
Almost all issues relating to the late transposition of Directive 2013/1/EU on the exercise of mobile EU citizens’ right to stand as candidates were successfully resolved before the elections. The Commission is pursuing bilateral dialogues with certain Member States on a number of issues of incorrect or incomplete transposition of the Directive.
The right to found or become members of political parties
A dialogue took place with 11 Member States that did not allow non-national EU citizens to found or become members of political parties so that they could participate in elections under the same conditions as nationals of their Member State of residence.
A solution was found in five cases: in two cases national law was amended and in the other three the situation was clarified. Three other Member States announced future legislative change. The Commission took action in the three remaining cases.
Ensuring respect for the common principles of the European Parliament elections
When organising European elections, Member States must respect certain common principles enshrined in EU law:
European Parliament elections are to be free, secret and by direct universal suffrage
In order to safeguard a core element of the principle of free suffrage, EU law prohibits the publication of results in any Member State until voting has closed in all. This is so that those who have yet to vote are not influenced by results in other Member States. The Commission successfully addressed this issue with Member States before the elections to ensure EU-wide compliance with this principle.
No-one may vote more than once in the same election
The case of mobile EU citizens
In order to prevent mobile EU citizens from voting both in their Member State of residence and their Member State of origin, those who register to vote in the former have their names deleted from the electoral rolls in the latter.
Directive 93/109/EC establishes a mechanism for exchanging EU voter data for this purpose. To address difficulties linked to the operation of the mechanism, notably the heavy administrative burden on national administrations, the Commission recommended a number of measures, including setting up a single contact authority in each Member State for notifying EU voters’ personal data and the use of common IT tools for transmitting the data.
The vast majority of Member States welcomed the recommendations and reported that the measures had a significant positive impact in terms of cutting red tape as a result of voter data, in most cases, no longer being received from several decentralised electoral bodies. A few Member States suggested that the lack of harmonised electoral calendars and methods for identifying voters meant that the mechanism was not as efficient as it could be. One Member State considered the mechanism to be disproportionate given the scale of the double-voting problem. The Commission will continue, together with the Member States, to explore ways of further improving the efficiency of the mechanisms preventing double voting.
EU citizens with multiple nationalities
There was broad media coverage of the case of a German citizen who also held the nationality of another Member State and was able to vote twice.
While no one may vote more than once in any election of members of the European Parliament, the Directive 93/109/EC mechanism for preventing double voting, by its nature, cannot be applied to dual or multiple nationals. As Member States usually do not know which of their nationals also have the nationality of another Member State, dual nationals can register in two Member States. That said, all Member States have in place sanctions against double voting. The incident in question shows the need for Member States to make people more aware of the ban on double voting and the applicable sanctions.
The key new element in the 2014 European elections was the direct link between the European Parliament election results and the choice of European Commission President, as provided for in the Lisbon Treaty. This direct link meant that candidates for President of the European Commission ("lead candidates") with different political programmes were nominated by European political parties and took part in a pan-European election campaign.
Under this new system, voters could more easily make the link between a vote cast for a national party and the impact of this vote on the political direction of the European Union for the next five years. This allowed voters to make an informed choice between alternative political platforms for Europe, rather than on exclusively national political issues. It injected a greater element of information and choice into the election, reinforced the democratic legitimacy of the European Commission, and has the potential to enhance public interest and strengthen accountability in the future.
The lead candidates participated in EU-wide political events and debates with broad media coverage that were geared to familiarising citizens with European issues that have a direct impact on their lives, thus ‘europeanising’ the elections.
The use of interactive social media as campaigning tools made it easier than before for voters to engage directly in the campaign. The social media campaigns of the different political parties reached hundreds of millions of European citizens.
Directive 2013/1/EU ensured that mobile EU citizens could exercise their political rights more effectively with a reduced administrative burden on national authorities. As guardian of the Treaties, the Commission has an enforcement role in safeguarding EU mobile citizens' right to vote and stand as candidates in European and promoting exchanges of best practice facilitating the exercise of this right.
There is a need to act not only shortly before the start of the election campaign but also far in advance; this implies the need for a reflection on how to maintain an ongoing interest in EU politics and increase awareness of the direct impact of European elections on citizens’ lives.
Looking ahead to the 2019 elections, it is important to identify ways of further enhancing the European dimension and the democratic legitimacy of the EU decision-making process, and to examine further, and seek to address, the reasons for the persistently low turnout in some Member States.
This points to a need to identify further ways in which to foster participation in the next elections, in particular through timely support for national, regional and local awareness-raising campaigns.
A dialogue with all stakeholders would be one way to take full advantage of the new features of the elections introduced in 2014, e.g. building on the concept of lead candidates to promote political accountability.
One factor in improving political accountability is highlighting the affiliations between national and European parties. This could be pursued in discussions with the Member States, political parties and the European Parliament.
Citizens’ Dialogues and the participation of citizens in European parties' campaign events and online discussions show that there is strong demand among citizens for more interaction with EU, national and local politicians on issues that matter to them. This form of exchange has real potential to become a lasting European project, as illustrated by the fact that, in several Member States, it led to the creation of informal networks and initiatives that keep the debate alive. Supporting Citizens’ Dialogues further can be a means of encouraging citizens to play a more active role in European politics throughout the Commission's mandate. Fostering a Europe-wide debate and building on the new elements of the 2014 elections can be seen as squarely in line with President Juncker's emphasis on a Union of Democratic Change in the Political Guidelines.