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The turnout for EU elections is getting lower with each electoral cycle, to the point where only 8 EU countries have a turnout of over 50% and only 13% of the voters participated in the last Slovakian election. One big issue with EU elections is that they're held on a separate date, which makes it far more likely for voters to skip it altogether if they don't see it as important.

So why won't the EU Parliament sync up its elections with the voting for national parliaments? I am aware that the periodicity of elections is different in different countries, but surely there won't be an issue if some Parliamentarians serve for 4 years, while others serve for 5?

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    How are you envisioning dealing with countries that allow elections whenever their national government collapses? – origimbo Aug 7 '17 at 9:34
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    @origimbo Well, the European Council also changes with every election, doesn't it? Why can't MPs change with every election too? – JonathanReez Aug 7 '17 at 9:49
  • Ignoring all practical issues, they aren't synced probably because it's no one's interest. National parliaments have no interest in being elected at the same time, nor have European Parliamentarians. – user15413 Aug 7 '17 at 10:57
  • Additional point to the already good, existing answers: with 28 EU members, if MPs are renovated each 4 years in independent elections, it means up to 7 elections/changes of members a year, more than once each two months. While some countries do not have a lot of MPs, the constant change of people would probably affect the organization of the EU Parliament. – SJuan76 Aug 7 '17 at 15:14
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    (+1) Intriguing idea, I am not sure I understand the downvotes. In practice, it's unlikely to happen but it does not seem uninteresting to think about that, especially when low turnout is clearly a problem for this particular election. – Relaxed Aug 7 '17 at 15:50
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This is part of a long-term effort to foster some European-wide debate and make this election about European issues, as opposed to purely national ones and generally make the EU more democratic and strive for something like a parliamentary regime, with a “cabinet” (the Commission) supported by a majority in parliament. Importantly, the Parliament is the one EU institution whose members are not named in some way by national governments (commissioners, EUCJ judges, members of the court of auditors, etc. are all named by each country's government).

The intent is apparent in all the changes to the election of the parliament and the nomination of the commission over the years. The European Coal and Steel Community already had a parliament from its creation in 1952 but the European Parliament is only elected directly since 1979. Then, in 1994-1995, the term of the third Delors Commission was shortened to align the next term with the European Parliament's term. And in 2014, European political parties also put forward “candidates” for the presidency of the Commission who debated on TV, much like parties in parliamentary democracies name a leader before an election.

It's only loosely related to the election itself but it's interesting to note that until recently, MEP would receive salaries identical to that of MP in their country of election. It's only since 2009 that they all receive the same pay, another step in disconnecting the European Parliament from national rules and concerns. All this has been a mixed success at best but de-syncing elections to the European Parliament would run contrary to this long-term trend.

Finally, note that doing so would create some practical problems for countries that never organise several elections concurrently (I am thinking about France for example) and potentially many many elections in short succession, although it's not too difficult to imagine some pragmatic fixes for these issues or to simply let countries do as they see fit.

  • The biggest problem I see from the Czech perspective is that the low turnout means the EU Parliament has less of a democratic mandate. Imagine if Slovakia falls down to 5% in the next electoral cycle - how would their MPs keep any resemblance of an authority? Has this issue been discussed at all by the EU? – JonathanReez Aug 7 '17 at 9:57
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    @JonathanReez Well, that's why I said it's a mixed success at best. Turnout is low (although it's not necessarily falling everywhere), EU-level coalitions are awkward, member states are unwilling to fully commit to follow the election results, commissioners are ultimately nominated by each government, and national concerns still seem to determine voting behaviour in many cases. But clearly, making it a separate visible Europe-side event is deliberate. – Relaxed Aug 7 '17 at 10:00
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The same issue applies for local elections in EU states, and for senatorial elections or equivalent when an upper chamber exists, and those aren't occurring all at once in EU countries either.

One issue is that the electoral process derives from the EU treaties, including when they should occur, so changing that would require renegotiating the latter. (The treaties leave plenty of room for local peculiarities. But the calendar is basically set in stone.)

Another issue is that some countries allow for snap elections, so it's unrealistic to keep national and european elections in sync.

Surely there won't be an issue if some Parliamentarians serve for 4 years, while others serve for 5

There is. Off the bat, working on getting re-elected gets in the way of getting actual work done. That in itself is enough of a reason to not want a chunk of your MPs on the road trying to get re-elected at all times.

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    "working on getting re-elected gets in the way of getting actual work done" - but the national MPs do it as well, so what's the big deal? The campaign for EU Parliament will simply be tied to the campaign for national parliament. – JonathanReez Aug 7 '17 at 9:50
  • I don't think MEP work on being reelected in quite the same way the MPs in most country. – Relaxed Aug 7 '17 at 9:55
  • @JonathanReez: National parliaments don't have a perpetual campaign going on. If some MPs get elected every 5 years while others get elected every 4 years, and all of these elections aren't occurring at the same time, part of the MPs would be getting renewed potentially every year, and potentially several times per year. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 7 '17 at 10:53
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    @DenisdeBernardy Actually, regular campaigns having an indirect effect on the make-up of the national parliament are not unheard of in federal countries. As I commented under another answer, that's basically how the Bundesrat gets renewed in Austria and Germany. And that would be even less significant for the European parliament, as MEP are not typically doing much door-to-door campaigning and the commission does not reflect the composition of the parliament in the way a national government usually does. – Relaxed Aug 7 '17 at 12:37
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Besides the points raised in Denis de Bernardy's excellent answer, there is a common doctrine in several electoral systems in Europe (e.g. the UK and Germany) that it is unfair for some voters to know the choices of other voters before they themselves vote. For this reason exit polls cannot announce before the polls are closed, and counting for the EU elections takes place on the Sunday, despite various countries holding their election Thursday to Sunday. This would break down if the election were tied to the National vote.

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    I don't see this as directly germane to the question, it would not be a single election anymore but more akin to the way the Bundesrat is elected. – Relaxed Aug 7 '17 at 9:54
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    Note the the Netherlands are one of the first to vote for the EP - on Thursday - and exit polls will be published as soon as the polls close on Thursday. So this cannot hold on EU scale. It's even "worse:" votes are counted and results are announced on election day and are open to public! In 2014, there was a reasonable successful attempt to send volunteers to as many voting stations as possible to write down those local results and publish those the same day, ahead of the elections in other EU states. – Sjoerd Aug 7 '17 at 23:25

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