The Party-Political Background of List Leaders in Elections to the European Parliament

Dr. Stefan Thierse

Elections to the European Parliament (EP) are still essentially national electoral contests. After all, it is the national parties and their subnational branches that select and nominate candidates for a mandate in Strasbourg and Brussels. While recent scholarship has expanded our understanding of what explains reelection and reselection of incumbent Members of the European Parliament (MEP) or the determinants of placement on party lists in selected Member States, surprisingly little is known about the career paths of MEPs who enter the EP as top-of-the-list candidates at the national or constituency level. Drawing on an original dataset that covers 162 MEPs from 15 Member States, this paper addresses the following research questions: What political experience have list leaders acquired prior to being (re-)elected to the EP? How do candidates from different parties differ in terms of their profile? We focus on experience in national party office and public office and mandates at the European, national and subnational level. Two sets of explanatory variables are considered that can explain differences between the profile of candidates and the importance of incumbency: party goals (vote seeking, office seeking, policy seeking parties) and electoral systems (closed list vs. open list systems; systems with and without multiple constituencies).