Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Heads of State in EU Member Countries

Most countries of the EU hold direct elections to decide the office of president. In addition there are different age requirements and also citizenship rules. Dr Melanie Sully gives an overview here of the most important points.

Heads of State in EU Member States

Prof Dr Melanie Sully This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In January 2015 Croatia voted in its first female president who around 20 years ago studied at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna. Lithuania and Malta along with the Monarchs of the UK and Denmark comprise the only female head of states of EU Member countries.

The 28 countries of the European Union consist of twenty one republics and seven constitutional monarchies. Of the 21 countries with a President as head of state, the election process varies. Two-thirds (14) are elected directly by the people in a popular vote and the rest (7) by parliament. Powers vary from purely figurehead symbols to having a political role especially in times of crises or deadlock. The British monarchy long thought to be a purely symbolic institution has exercised in the past greater influence than was thought as recent evidence showed that came to light resulting from Freedom of Information.

I Qualifications

It is imagined that a head of state should be especially experienced whatever the official duties they should fulfil and thus most countries have a relatively high age threshold to stand for office. In Italy this is 50 whilst in Croatia and the Czech Republic, according to law, the minimum age is just 18. Most countries have 35 or 40 as the minimum age necessary.

Austria has a minimum age of 35 for a candidate to stand for Head of State   (as does Cyprus, Hungary, Ireland, Poland and Portugal). Whilst the age for the right to vote has been lowered in Austria to 16 and other countries eg the UK are also considering more youth engagement in politics, a high age requirement for high office might seem increasingly anachronistic.

Many eg Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Latvia and Lithuania have an age threshold of 40.

In Slovakia according to Art 103 of the Constitution the candidate must be at least 40 and in the 2014 elections the youngest contender for head of state was 40 and the oldest 75; elected was a candidate aged 51

(more details see Maros Lauer, Go-Governance Youth Empowerment Project http://www.go-governance.com/projects/youth/153-youth-empowerment.html).

Other qualifications can include citizenship of the relevant country (see below).

 

II Austria

In 2016 Austria will have elections to choose the President of the Republic. According to the Constitution he or she must be over the age of 35 and elected in a popular vote for a term of six years. Re-election is allowed once for the consecutive term.  If there is only one candidate the vote takes place as for a referendum (e.g. “should candidate X be (re)elected: Yes/No”). Direct election is in accordance with an amendment to the 1920 Constitution introduced in 1929 but it was not until 1951 that a federal president was elected by the people.

Compulsory voting in presidential elections existed until 1982. Subsequently it was up to the individual federal states to decide on whether voting was mandatory.  In the 2004 presidential election only Tyrol still had a provision on compulsory voting but this was abolished shortly afterwards.

 

Elections/Appointment of Heads of State in EU Countries

 

Country

Head of State

Election

Austria

President

Direct

Belgium

Monarch

----

Bulgaria

President

Direct

Croatia

President

Direct

Cyprus

President

Direct

Czech   Republic

President

Direct

Denmark

Monarch

----

Estonia

President

Indirect

Finland

President

Direct

France

President

Direct

Germany

President

Indirect

Greece

President

Indirect

Hungary

President

Indirect

Ireland

President

Direct

Italy

President

Indirect

Latvia

President

Indirect

Lithuania

President

Direct

Luxembourg

Grand Duke

----

Malta

President

Indirect

Netherlands

Monarch

----

Poland

President

Direct

Portugal

President

Direct

Romania

President

Direct

Slovakia

President

Direct

Slovenia

President

Direct

Spain

Monarch

----

Sweden

Monarch

----

United   Kingdom

Monarch

----

Sources

Further details can be found on the individual websites of the Presidents of the member countries and in the Constitutions

 

III Summaries of the main rules for Heads of State in EU Member countries

 

III.i Direct Elections

Besides Austria, the following EU member states have direct elections for the office of president. The constitutional provisions vary. Here are some of the salient points.

 

▪In Bulgaria the president according to Article 93 of the Constitution is directly elected by the voters every five years and must be over the age of 40. The candidate who polls over 50 percent of the valid votes wins. A 50 percent turn-out is necessary. Any natural born Bulgarian citizen is eligible who has lived in the country for the preceding five years.

 

▪In Croatia the minimum age to stand for the presidency is just 18 and there are direct elections. According to article 96 of the constitution the President has to give up his or her party membership.

 

▪In Cyprus the president is popularly elected for five years (Article 39 of the constitution) and must be over the age of 35. If there is only one candidate they shall be declared as elected otherwise the successful candidate has to receive over 50 percent of the valid votes.

•The Czech Republic had until 2012 provisions in the Constitution (articles 54-58)  stipulating that the candidates must be at least the age required to become a senator i.e 40. The president was elected by a joint meeting of both chambers of parliament. Nominations were put forward by not less that 10 deputies or 10 senators. The successful candidate had to poll in the first instance an absolute majority in both houses. Article 58 of the constitution regulated further procedures. Now there are direct elections.

 

▪The Finnish president is elected in a popular vote for six years (section 54 of the constitution) and must be a native born citizen of Finland. Parties in parliament have the right of nomination as well as 20,000 persons. Elected is the one who receives over half the votes.

 

▪In France according to Article 6/7 of the constitution the president should be elected in direct, universal suffrage for five years and needs an absolute majority.

 

▪In Ireland the president according to the Constitution (article 12) is elected by the people for seven years and must be over 35. If there is only one candidate no ballot has to take place. Nominations can be put forward by 20 parliamentarians or by the Councils. Ireland is unusual in using a system of proportional representation for the presidential elections, the Single Transferable Vote.

 

▪In Lithuania article 78 of the constitution allows for direct vote of the president for a five year term. There must be a 50 percent turn-out and over 50 percent of the votes secured. The candidate must be over 40 and be backed by over 20,000 signatures. They should be a Lithuanian by origin and have lived in the country for at least three years previously.

 

▪In Poland as provided for in Article 127 of the constitution the president is elected by the nation in direct elections for five years and must get over half the valid votes. He or she must be a Polish citizen 35 or over and the nomination must be supported by 100,000 signatures.

 

▪In Portugal the president according to the constitution (article 121 ff) is elected by the people for a term of five years, must be 35 or over and be nominated by at least 7,500 electors and at the most 15,000. Citizens of Portugese origin are eligible.

 

▪In Romania according to article 81 of the Constitution the president is to be elected by a majority of voters by universal, equal, direct and free suffrage for a five year term.

 

▪For the direct elections to the presidency in Slovakia candidates have to be put forward by a group of 15 members of the National Council or collect 15,000 signatures. The candidate who wins more than 50 percent of the valid vote is elected for five years. In Slovakia after the fall of communism the President was originally elected by parliament but this was changed to allow for a popular vote. According to Article 101 of the Constitution the president must be elected by the people every five years.

 

▪Direct elections also determine the President in Slovenia for a term of five years (article 103 of the constitution). A majority of valid votes is required. Candidates must be Slovene citizens.

 

III.ii Indirect Elections

The other heads of state (apart from the Monarchies) are indirectly elected including the following:

 

▪In Estonia according to § 79 of the constitution the president shall be elected by parliament for a five year term and must be over the age of 40 and an Estonian citizen by birth. The right to nominate candidates rests with a fifth of the members of parliament and a two-thirds majority is needed for election.

 

▪In Germany the president is indirectly elected by a federal convention according to Article 54 of the Basic Law for a term of five years. The Convention consists of the members of the Bundestag and delegates from the legislatures of the federal states on the basis of proportional representation. Candidates must be over 40 and German. For the first round an absolute majority is required.

 

▪In Greece the president is elected as per the constitution by parliament for a period of five years. A special sitting takes place and the president is elected in a roll call of MPs with a two-thirds majority of the total MPs. Eligible are Greek citizens of at least five years, of Greek descent from the father’s or mother’s line  over the age of 40.

 

▪In Hungary the Constitution stipulates that parliament should elect the president for five years and candidates have to be over the age of 35. Enfranchised Hungarians are eligible. Nominations can be put forward by 50 members of parliament and the successful candidate requires a two-thirds majority of the MPs.  

 

▪In Italy according to Article 83ff of the Constitution the president is elected in a joint session of the two houses of parliament for a term of seven years and any citizen over the age of 50 can stand. The successful candidate needs a two-thirds majorigy of the assembly.

 

▪In Latvia Article 35 of the Constitution requires that parliament elects the president for four years by a majority of votes, not less than 51, and that he or she must be over the age of 40. A citizen of Latvia can stand but not those possessing dual citizenship.

 

▪The Maltese constitution Article 48 says that the president is elected by a resolution of parliament for a period of five years and a citizen of Malta can stand for the office.

 

Most of the above include further provisions for what happens when candidates do not get the required 50 percent first time and there is usually a run off a few weeks later. Most countries also limit the terms of office of presidents to two consecutive terms. Presidents are elected for four years (eg Latvia) for five years (eg Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia), for six years (eg Finland) or at the most seven years as in Italy and also Ireland.