Explainer: Europe is getting ready for elections

Apr 16, 2019

This week we take a break from our usual Brexit bulletin to look at the European Parliament elections which are happening across the EU between 23 and 26 May 2019.  705 MEPs will be elected to serve a term of 5 years.  In this week’s edition, we explain how the elections work in Ireland and the UK. 

When do the elections take place in Ireland and the UK?

In Ireland, the vote will take place on Friday, 24 May 2019. In the UK, the vote will take place on Thursday 23 May 2019; if they happen at all.   If the UK can agree and legislate on a way to leave the EU by 22 May, the vote will not take place.

How often do the elections take place?

Every five years.

Why are they important?

The European Parliament is the only directly elected EU Institution, and what is decided in the Parliament over the next five years will have a direct impact on the lives of EU citizens. Voting in the European Parliament elections gives citizens a say over the future direction of the EU.

Find out what the EU does in your area using this link.

How many MEPs will be elected in 2019?

In May 2019, EU citizens will elect over 700 members (MEPs) to represent them at the European Parliament until 2024.

Ireland will elect 13 MEPs and the UK will elect a maximum of 73.  MEPs voted last year to abolish 46 of the UK’s 73 seats (and put aside for future enlargement) and allocate the remaining 27 to other member states.  The plan was to reduce the number of MEPs elected from 751 to 705. This seat redistribution is on hold pending a decision on whether the UK will take part in the elections.   So for example this could mean that if the UK contests the European elections, two Irish MEPs would not take up their seats immediately (the additional seats allocated in Dublin and South).

How many constituencies are in Ireland and the UK?

There are three European constituencies in Ireland; Midlands-North-West, South and Dublin. 

Midlands-North-West comprises the counties of Cavan, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and the city of Galway.  4 MEPs will be elected.

The South Constituency comprises the counties of Carlow, Clare, Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Tipperary, Wexford and Wicklow; the cities and counties of Limerick and Waterford and Cork city.  5 MEPs will be elected.

Dublin comprises Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, South Dublin and the city of Dublin.  4 MEPs will be elected.

You can see  which constituency your area belongs to in Ireland.

In the UK, there are twelve regions: nine in England, and one each for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  3 MEPs will be elected in Northern Ireland.

You can see which constituency your area belongs to in the UK.

Who is eligible to become an MEP?

In Ireland MEPs must be:

  • Citizens of Ireland or a resident EU citizen;
  • Over 21 years of age and
  • Not be disqualified for any of the following reasons

In the UK, MEPs must be:

  • Over 18 years of age
  • A British or Irish citizen; an eligible Commonwealth citizen; or a citizen of any other member state of the EU resident in the UK or Gibraltar
  • Not be disqualified for any of the following reasons

How are MEPs elected in Ireland?

Ireland uses a form of proportional representation called the single transferable vote. This means that voters rank the candidates (1,2,3 etc.), as many or as few as they wish, in order of choice.  

In order to be elected, a candidate needs to receive a quota (a minimum number of votes).  If the votes obtained by any candidate surpass the quota, they are immediately elected.

All surplus votes obtained by an elected candidate are then transferred to other candidates according to voters’ preferences.

Votes are then recounted and other candidates who clear the quota are also elected. Candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated with their votes transferred to the voters’ second preference. The transfer of votes and elimination of candidates continues until all seats are filled.

How are MEPs elected in the UK?

Proportional representation is also used in the UK – although the method differs between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In England, Scotland and Wales, MEPs are elected using the D’Hondt system within each region.

Parties draw up regional lists of candidates which they share with the electorate. The party that wins the most votes can elect the MEP. The winning party’s vote total is then halved, and the party with the highest tally in the second re-ordered list can send an MEP to Brussels. This process is repeated until all candidates for the region are appointed.

Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system. Voters rank candidates in order of preference and once votes have been cast, a quota is determined. Any candidate who achieves the quota outright will be elected. The lowest ranked candidates are eliminated, and votes are transferred to other candidates.

Who can vote?

Irish and other EU citizens’ resident in Ireland and UK and other EU citizens’ resident in the UK and aged 18 or over can vote in person provided they register before the deadline, which is 14 days before polling day in Ireland and by 6 May 2019 in the UK. 

I am a citizen of another EU country but live in Ireland – can I vote?

If you are permanent resident in Ireland since 1 September 2018 but from another European country, you can vote in Ireland’s election. But you must register to vote before 10 May (14 days before polling day) at the latest. If you are an EU citizen resident in Ireland who wishes to register their vote in Ireland, you can download the EP1 from checktheregister.ie in order to be added to the Register of Electors. You may not be able to vote in your home country.

I am a citizen of another EU country but live in the UK – can I vote?

EU citizens resident in the UK are allowed to vote in the UK elections.  You do need to fill in an additional form called the European Parliament voter registration form.   The purpose of this form is to get you to declare that you are going to vote in the European elections in the UK only, rather than in your home country. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in the UK can vote in the UK.  

You are not allowed to vote in the European elections in two countries.

For more information use this link.

Where will the results be published?

The results of the 2019 European elections will be available on election-results.eu. Initial results should be available from 26 May 2019.

More information

For more information on the European elections in Ireland, use this link.  For more information in the UK, please use this link.

Next week we will look at in more detail what MEPs do and how the European Parliament operates.