From Language Diversity to Gender Equality: European Elections by the Numbers

More than 400 million Europeans are heading to the polls to elect the 751 members of the European Union Parliament to new five-year terms.

Containing 7.3 percent of the world’s population, the EU in 2017 generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of 19,670 trillion US dollars, constituting approximately 24.6 percent of global nominal GDP.

The EU, a political and economic union of 28 member states, asserts that it is in favor of linguistic diversity and has 24 official languages. The most widely-spoken language in the EU is English, which is understood by 51 percent of all adults, while German is the most widely-used mother tongue, spoken by 18 percent.

All 24 official languages of the EU are accepted as working languages, but in practice only two – English and French – are in wide general use and of these, English is the more commonly used.

The elections themselves are, as usual, spread across four separate days, with the British and Dutch having voted on May 23; the Irish on May 24; the Czechs on May 24 and 25; Latvia, Malta and Slovakia heading to the polls on May 25; and everyone else casting their ballots on May 26.

An initial batch of 751 MEPs will make up the next European Parliament, with smaller countries such as Luxembourg, Malta, and Cyprus having six each, while Germany gets 96.

Voter enthusiasm for the European elections has waned steadily after the eight such events undertaken since 1979, when Europeans began electing their representatives directly.

In that first plebiscite forty years ago, 61.8 percent of eligible voters in what was then nine EU members turned out to vote. But in the last European elections of 2014, only 42.6 percent of voters in the 28-member bloc cast their vote.

However, looking at the turnout in individual countries tells a more nuanced story. In 2014, 74.8 percent of the Maltese public voted, while only 13.8 percent of Slovaks did so. Four member states have compulsory voting, such as Belgium (which saw a 89.6 percent turnout).

Still, even with mandatory voting, only 60 percent of Greek citizens took part in the previous European Union election.

Four EU states – the Czech Republic, Ireland, Malta, and Slovakia – don’t allow their nationals living abroad to vote in European Parliament elections, while such rules vary elsewhere.

Three EU states permit minors to vote, with Austria and Malta granting 16-year-olds a say and Greece giving 17-year-olds a voice.

The age limits for eligible candidates also vary. Most EU states set the minimum age for standing in these elections at 18 or 21, but Romania, at 23, and Italy and Greece, both with 25 as the minimum age, set the bar higher.

The proportion of women sitting in the European Parliament has more than doubled since the first directly elected MEPs took office in 1979.

Women remain short of parity in the chamber, but their numbers have always exceeded the average number of seats held by women in the bloc’s national parliaments. Forty years ago, women made up just 16.3 percent of elected European lawmakers. By 2014, that figure had climbed to 36.9 percent.

(With information from AFP)