Why Synchronise National Electoral Cycles?

By Grégoire Mallard
Associate Professor, Anthropology and Sociology, Graduate Institute


A year ago, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi proposed that Italy’s next election be synchronized with Germany’s last September election, saying that in-synch national elections made sense “from a European perspective”. While nobody seemed to have picked up Renzi’s line, we have led an initiative under the name “European Election Day Lab”. The Lab convened a group of political scientists, constitutional and EU law scholars, who held the first workshop on in-synch elections at Villa Barton in September 2017. On April 8, 2018, I discussed the result of our work at the “Ulysses conference” in Lisbon, where European policymakers and scholars discussed the future of Europe.

As I told the public in Lisbon, synchronising national electoral cycles would improve democracy in Europe in at least two different ways. First, it could give more political agency to European citizens at the European level. This is the most important issue today. European voters (especially in Eurozone countries) believe that most of the policies that they can vote upon are no longer under the control of their national government but under the control of European institutions, especially the European Council and Council of the EU (where national representatives are members of their government, hence elected during national elections). They are right. But at the same time, they also notice that their vote in national elections can only change one vote in the European Councils, which is insufficient to change the internal dynamics at the EU level. Out-of-synch national elections do not generate truly transnational campaigns and fail to create new majorities in the Council. In-synch elections could address some of these issues.

In addition, in-synch national elections in Europe could help the EU institutions improve the efficiency of their decision-making process. This is especially true in the Council of the EU, where decisions are often delayed in order to wait for the results of the next national election. Since the latter are not synchronized, these delays occur frequently.

In the first report of the European Election Day Lab, I summarized several other conclusions, one of which is that this European Election Day should be understood broadly, as various versions of the proposal could be all equally valid. For instance, in the European Union, member-states vote at the national level, on average, every three months. A pragmatic proposal could thus be to ask all EU states to synchronize elections with other EU member-states which are bound to hold elections in the same 6 to 12 months bracket. The synchronization of national electoral cycles thus seemed to be a promising venue to improve the democratic life of the Union, and the European Election Day Lab will continue to engage in new foresight exercises in the very near future.


This article is based on the outcomes of an SNSF exploratory workshop entitled “European Election Day” co-organised by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and the Global Governance Centre (then Programme for the Study of International Governance). The article also appears on linkedin.


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