Brussels – EU member states agreed on Thursday to an electoral threshold that would ban any parties receiving a tiny share of the vote from representation in the European Parliament – a move expected to take effect from 2024.
The next European elections take place on May 23-26, 2019, and concerns have grown that eurosceptic and populist parties could make huge gains.
A hurdle to keep small parties out of the parliament
Following lengthy negotiations, EU member states agreed to introduce a hurdle to keep small parties out of the parliament. According to the deal, each member state will establish a minimum threshold of between 2 and 5 per cent of voter support that a party needs to reach in order to enter the parliament.
This would only apply to constituencies with more than 35 seats.
The change means that small parties in larger countries, such as Germany's Free Voters party, Pirate Party and National Democratic Party, will have little chance of making it into the European Parliament.
Two and a half years of negotiations
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said it was a "welcome agreement after two and a half years of negotiations" among EU member states.
"Member states considered it appropriate to modernise certain aspects of the EU electoral law and establish a minimum threshold at EU level, while ensuring that this will be carefully targeted," Zaharieva said.
The measure is part of a proposed reform package that still requires the approval of EU lawmakers.
The other changes include new provisions on so-called double voting, which would lead to penalizing citizens who vote in more than one EU country; and new measures on voting in non-EU countries and the visibility of EU political parties in member states.
New forms of voting
The new rules would also allow member states to introduce new forms of voting, including through the internet.
The reforms would likely only take effect in the 2024 elections because the Council of Europe – Europe's human rights watchdog – says no electoral change should be introduced in the 12 months leading up to an election.