Tiger of the Stripe Blog

Democracy in the EU: The European Parliament

There are three main decision-making bodies in the European Union: the European Parliament; the Council of the European Union; and the European Commission.

The European Parliament

From the point of view of the correspondence between the percentage of votes cast for a party and the number of seats gained, the UK election to the European Parliament, which uses proportional representation, is an improvement on our general elections. For instance, in the 2014 European Parliament elections, the Labour party (24.43% of votes) received 27.4% of the seats; the Conservatives (23.05% of votes) received 26.03% of the seats and the SNP (2.73% of the votes) received 2.74% of the seats. UKIP did rather better than it should have done with 32.88% of the seats for 26.6% of the votes, while the LibDems did a lot worse than they should have, receiving a single seat (1.37% of the seats) for 6.61% of the votes. Clearly, no form of voting is perfect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Parliament_election,_2014_(United_Kingdom)

However, we have to ask how this related to the vote:seat ratio in other EU countries.


Valid Votes


Votes per Seat


United Kingdom




















We can see that each vote in Slovakia and Malta is worth more than five times as much as a UK vote. While this is not as bad as the discrepancy between the SNP and UKIP in the general election, it is still very far from being a fair system. It has to be said that Germany gets an even worse deal with 96 seats for 29,340,700 valid votes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Parliament_election,_2014_(Germany)

There is an argument that small countries need to be over-represented to protect them from larger countries. Having seen the way that the Scottish Nationalist Party behaves with such a small proportion of the total UK vote in the last general election and a disproportionally large number of seats, I cannot subscribe to this idea; it is fundamentally undemocratic.

The European Parliament’s roles (was laid out on the EU’s own website) are defined as follows:


Passing EU laws, together with the Council of the EU, based on European Commission proposals

Deciding on international agreements

Deciding on enlargements

Reviewing the Commission's work programme and asking it to propose legislation


Democratic scrutiny of all EU institutions

Electing the Commission President and approving the Commission as a body. Possibility of voting a motion of censure, obliging the Commission to resign

Granting discharge, i.e. approving the way EU budgets have been spent

Examining citizens' petitions and setting up inquiries

Discussing monetary policy with the European Central Bank

Questioning Commission and Council

Election observations


Establishing the EU budget, together with the Council

Approving the EU's long-term budget, the ‘Multiannual Financial Framework’


Democracy in the UK and EU

There are very different perceptions on the level of democracy in the European Union. Any criticism of democracy within the EU should be prefaced with an admission that the UK’s voting system leaves much to be desired. The Conservative Party, with 36.8% of the vote, gained 330 seats in the House of Commons, while Labour, with 30.5% of the vote, gained 232 seats. More remarkably, the Scottish National Party, with 4.7% of the votes, gained 56 seats, while the United Kingdom Independence Party, with 12.7% of the vote, gained a single seat. To put it another way, the SNP won a seat for approximately every 25,972 votes it received, while UKIP gained a single seat from the 3,881,099 votes it received.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_2015

There are good arguments for the first-past-the-post system used for general elections in the UK but they are surely outweighed by the manifest unfairness. The problem has always been finding a new, fairer system which retains the best aspects of the old system. Anyone examining the various systems outlined on the Electoral Reform Society’s website will see the difficulties.


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