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‘A Goal That Applies to the European Parliament No Differently From How It Applies to National Parliaments’: The Italian Constitutional Court Vindicates the 4% Threshold for European Elections

Italian Constitutional Court, Judgment of 25 October 2018 no. 239/2018

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2019


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Case Notes
© 2019 The Authors 

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Postdoctoral Researcher in Comparative Public Law, Institute for Law, Politics and Development (Dirpolis), Scuola superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa. Email address: This contribution builds on a blog post that was published on Verfassungsblog (‘Rationalising political representation within the European Parliament: the Italian Constitutional Court rules on the threshold for the European elections’, 11 January 2019, at ⟨⟩, visited 14 May 2019).


1 Besselink, L.F.M., A Composite European Constitution/Een Samengestelde Europese Constitutie (Europa Law Publishing 2007)Google Scholar.

2 Alonso de León, S., ‘Four decades of the European Electoral Act: a look back and a look ahead to an unfulfilled ambition’, 42 European Law Review (2017) p. 353 at p. 367Google Scholar. See also Rosas, A. and Armati, L., EU Constitutional Law: An Introduction (Hart Publishing 2010) p. 116Google Scholar; Fabbrini, F., ‘Representation in the European Parliament: Of False Problems and Real Challenges’, 75 Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (2015) p. 823 at p. 839Google Scholar (raising the question of ‘whether the current representative structure of the EP is the most adequate to perform the task’).

3 German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), judgments of 9 November 2011 (BVerfGE 129, 300) and 18 December 2013 (BVerfGE 135, 259). See Michel, B., ‘Thresholds for the European Parliament Elections in Germany Declared Unconstitutional Twice’, 12 EuConst (2016) p. 133 Google Scholar; Taylor, G, ‘The constitutionality of election thresholds in Germany’, 15 International Journal of Constitutional Law (2017) p. 734 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 German Federal Constitutional Court, judgment of 22 May 1979 (BVerfGE 51, 222). See Murswiek, D., ‘Die Verfassungswidrigkeit der 5%-Sperrklausel im Europawahlgesetz’, 29 Juristenzeitung (1979) p. 48 Google Scholar.

5 Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic (Ústavní soud České republiky), judgment of 19 May 2015 (Pl. ÚS 14/14). See Smekal, H. and Vyhnánek, L., ‘Equal voting power under scrutiny: Czech Constitutional Court on the 5% threshold in the 2014 European Parliament Elections’, 12 EuConst (2016) p. 148 Google Scholar.

6 Pildes, R.H., ‘Elections’, in Rosenfeld, M. and Sajó, A. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford University Press 2012) p. 529 at p. 530Google Scholar.

7 See Cassese, S., Governare gli italiani. Storia dello Stato (il Mulino 2014) p. 80-82 Google Scholar.

8 Italian Constitutional Court, judgments no. 1/2014 and 35/2017. See Longo, E. and Pin, A., ‘Judicial Review, Election Law, and Proportionality’, 6 Notre Dame International and Comparative Law Journal (2016) p. 101 Google Scholar; Baraggia, A. and Vanoni, L.P., ‘The Italian Electoral Law Saga: Judicial Activism or Judicial Subsidiarity’, STALS Research Paper no. 2/2017 Google Scholar; Faraguna, P., ‘“Do You Ever Have One of Those Days When Everything Seems Unconstitutional?”: The Italian Constitutional Court Strikes Down the Electoral Law Once Again’, 13 EuConst (2017) p. 778 Google Scholar.

9 Law no. 18 of 24 January 1979, as amended by law no. 10 of 20 February 2009.

10 An English translation of the motivation in law is available ⟨⟩, visited 14 May 2019.

11 See Renwick, A. et al., ‘Partisan self-interest and electoral reform: The new Italian electoral law of 2005’, 28 Electoral Studies (2009) p. 437 at p. 438CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 See Troccoli, G., ‘L’elezione a suffragio universale diretto del Parlamento europeo’, 27 Rivista trimestrale di diritto pubblico (1977) p. 1535 Google Scholar; Traversa, S., ‘L’elezione del Parlamento a suffragio universale e la legge elettorale italiana’, 27 Rivista trimestrale di diritto pubblico (1977) p. 1577 Google Scholar.

13 See Lanchester, F., ‘Parlamento europeo: il progetto di procedura elettorale uniforme’, 4 Quaderni costituzionali (1984) p. 148 at p. 149Google Scholar.

14 See Martinelli, C., ‘Gli sbarramenti nelle leggi elettorali per il Parlamento europeo’, 29 Quaderni costituzionali (2009) p. 396 at p. 398-399Google Scholar.

15 Italian Constitutional Court, judgments no. 271/2010 and 110/2015. See Piccirilli, G., ‘Maintaining a 4% Electoral Threshold for European Elections, in order to clarify access to constitutional justice in electoral matters’, 12 EuConst (2016) p. 164 Google Scholar.

16 See Siclari, M., ‘Il procedimento in via incidentale’, in Balduzzi, R. and Costanzo, P. (eds.), Le zone d’ombra della giustizia costituzionale. I giudizi sulle leggi (Giappichelli 2007) p. 11 at p. 25-27Google Scholar.

17 Piccirilli, supra n. 15, p. 169.

18 Piccirilli, supra n. 15, p. 171. See also Repetto, G., Il canone dell’incidentalità costituzionale. Trasformazioni e continuità nel giudizio sulle leggi (Editoriale Scientifica 2017) p. 25-57 Google Scholar.

19 ‘(1) Any citizen, male or female, who has attained majority, is entitled to vote. (2) The vote is personal and equal, free and secret. The exercise thereof is a civic duty. (3) The law lays down the requirements and modalities for citizens residing abroad to exercise their right to vote and guarantees that this right is effective. A constituency of Italians abroad shall be established for elections to the Houses of Parliament; the number of seats of such constituency is set forth in a constitutional provision according to criteria established by law. (4) The right to vote cannot be restricted except for civil incapacity or as a consequence of an irrevocable penal sentence or in cases of moral unworthiness as laid down by law’.

20 Italian Constitutional Court, judgment no. 110/2015, para. 3.3 of the motivation in law.

21 Piccirilli, supra n. 15, p. 174. This decision of the Court was criticised by many scholars: see e.g. S. Lieto and P. Pasquino, ‘Porte che si aprono e che si chiudono. La sentenza n. 110 del 2015’, 24 June 2015, at ⟨⟩, visited 14 May 2019.

22 In Italy, claims relating to voting rights have to be raised before civil courts, whereas administrative courts scrutinise the regularity of elections.

23 Faraguna, supra n. 8, p. 789.

24 Para. 6.2 of the motivation in law.

25 Reference is made to the ‘rationalisation of parliamentarism’, a trend that the Franco-Russian scholar Boris Mirkine-Guetzévitch detected as early as the interwar years: see Mirkine-Guetzévitch, B., Les nouvelles tendances du droit constitutionnel (Marcel Giard 1931)Google Scholar.

26 BVerfGE 129, 300, 320. See, among others, Frowein, J., ‘Die Rechtsprechung des Bundesverfassungsgerichts zum Wahlrecht’, 99 Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts (1974) p. 72 at p. 80-84Google Scholar.

27 BVerfGE 129, 300, 322.

28 Para. 2.1.1 of the motivation in law.

29 See Faraguna, supra n. 8, p. 791-792.

30 See Sadurski, W., Rights Before Courts: A Study of Constitutional Courts in Postcommunist States of Central and Eastern Europe, 2nd edn. (Springer 2014) at p. 213-214 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In the relevant case law, see e.g. Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, judgment of 2 April 1997 (Pl. ÚS 25/96), para. 2.

31 See Carrozza, P., ‘Governo e amministrazione’, in Carrozza, P. et al., Diritto costituzionale comparato (Laterza 2009) p. 853 at p. 907Google Scholar.

32 Para. 6.4 of the motivation in law.

33 Still, the case law of the Bundesverfassungsgericht has served as an important source of comparative argumentation in the recent judgments of the Italian Constitutional Court on electoral issues (see Faraguna, supra n. 8, p. 789).

34 Crisafulli, V., ‘La sovranità popolare nella Costituzione italiana (note preliminari)’, in Stato popolo governo. Illusioni e delusioni costituzionali (Giuffrè 1985) p. 89 at p. 92Google Scholar.

35 See, among others, Böckenförde, E.W., ‘Mittelbare/repräsentative Demokratie als eigentliche Form der Demokratie’, in Müller, G. et al. (eds.), Staatsorganisation und Staatsfunktionen im Wandel. Festschrift für Kurt Eichenberger zum 60. Geburtstag (Verlag Helbing & Lichtenhahn 1982) p. 301 Google Scholar.

36 German Federal Constitutional Court, judgment of 30 June 2009 (BVerfGE 123, 267, 340-341).

37 Para. 6.5 of the motivation in law.

38 Ibid.

39 As regards the slow emergence of a proportionality test in the case law of the Constitutional Court, see Longo and Pin, supra n. 8, p. 115-117.

40 Which is forbidden in Italy under Art. 118(3) of the Implementing Provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure.

41 Hix, S. et al., ‘The Party System in the European Parliament: Collusive or Competitive?’, 41 Journal of Common Market Studies (2003) p. 309 at p. 327CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see also Lefkofridi, Z. and Katsanidou, A., ‘A Step Closer to a Transnational Party System? Competition and Coherence in the 2009 and 2014 European Parliament’, 56 Journal of Common Market Studies (2018) p. 1462 at p. 1478-1479CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Bressanelli, E., ‘National parties and group membership in the European Parliament: ideology or pragmatism’, 19 Journal of European Public Policy (2012) p. 737 at p. 751CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 The two dissenting judges argued that each member state tries to limit partisan fragmentation in its own contingent of Members of the European Parliament, and that a threshold is not the only possible tool for achieving this goal. However, the decision of the Court to strike down the 5% threshold would isolate Germany and lead it to embark upon a Sonderweg (BVerfGE 129, 300, 352-353). The Czech Court, which treated the impugned national provisions as ‘domestic implementing regulations for the [Direct Elections] Act’ (Pl. ÚS 14/14, para. 47), dealt extensively with the different regulations currently in force in the various member states (paras. 48-51).

44 Pl. ÚS 14/14, para. 50.

45 Opinion of AG Poiares Maduro, delivered on 30 September 2009, Case C-135/08, Rottmann, para. 23; Opinion of AG Szpunar, delivered on 4 February 2016, Cases C-165/14 and C-304/14, Rendón Marín and CS, para. 117.

46 BVerfGE 135, 259, 283.

47 See Wouters, J., ‘Constitutional Limits of Differentiation: the Principle of Equality’, in De Witte, B. et al. (eds.), The Many Faces of Differentiation in EU Law (Intersentia 2001) p. 301 at p. 325 and 333Google Scholar (discussing the Matthews judgment of the European Court of Human Rights); Lenaerts, K. et al., EU Procedural Law (Oxford University Press 2014) p. 218 and 309Google Scholar. See ECJ 28 April 1988, Joined Cases 31 and 35/86, LAISA v Council, para. 17; ECJ 7 November 1991, Case C-313/89, Commission v Spain, para. 10; ECJ 2 October 1997, Case C-259/95, Parliament v Council, para. 9; ECtHR 18 February 1999, Case No. 24833/94, Matthews v United Kingdom, para. 33.

48 See Barsotti, V. et al., Italian Constitutional Justice in Global Context (Oxford University Press 2016) p. 52-53 Google Scholar.

49 See e.g. Piccirilli, G., ‘The “Taricco Saga”: The Italian Constitutional Court continues its European Journey’, 14 EuConst (2018) p. 814 Google Scholar.

50 Para. 6.6 of the motivation in law.

51 Ibid.

52 See G. Tarli Barbieri, ‘Il sistema elettorale per l’elezione dei membri del Parlamento europeo spettanti all’Italia: problemi e prospettive dopo la sent. 239/2018 della Corte costituzionale’, 1 Consulta OnLine (2019) p. 20 at p. 33, ⟨⟩, visited 14 May 2019.

53 Council Decision (EU, Euratom) 2018/994 of 13 July 2018 amending the Act concerning the election of the members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage, annexed to Council Decision 76/787/ECSC, EEC, Euratom of 20 September 1976.

54 At the European election of 2014, the case of Giovanni di Lorenzo, a journalist with dual Italian and German citizenship who voted twice, caused some uproar.

55 See F. Schulz, ‘EU-Wahl: Deutsche Regierung will Sperrklausel für Kleinparteien’, Euractiv, 4 October 2018, ⟨⟩, visited 14 May 2019.