Analysis of political parties’ and independent candidates’ policies for gender balance in the European Parliament after the elections of 2014

Research report
Exploratory analysis
Gender equality

McCracken K

Lovenduski J

Marquez S

Parry W

Niżyńska A

Várnagy R

Ghailani D

Šidlauskienė V


April 1, 2015


Upon request by the FEMM Committee of the Directorate General for Internal Policies this study explores the results of the 2014 European Parliament elections in terms of gender balance of MEPs. The study uses case studies and statistical analyses of the election results to establish the main barriers to women being elected. The factors explored include the type of electoral system used, political parties’ candidate list selection processes and strategies used by women political candidates. The study presents recommendations for improving gender balance in the European Parliament.


The study involved case studies and statistical analyses of candidate characteristics and election results. Nine in-depth case studies were conducted in Belgium, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. This involved interviews with a range of respondents including women MEPs, political party officials who are involved with party selection processes, and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with expertise in electoral processes and gender balance.

Key findings

  • The underrepresentation of women in parliament is largely due to the underrepresentation of women in the candidate base. This problem can be addressed by actions of political parties in constructing their party lists.
  • Political parties are the main enablers as well as barriers to women being elected as MEPs.
  • Women are frequently left out of party candidate lists and, even if they are included, are often given low list positions; this is a key barrier to gender balance in the European Parliament.
  • Political parties often act to ‘champion’ certain candidates that are frequently male; this can disadvantage women candidates who have often garnered support over many years through grass roots organisations.
  • Based on regression analyses of candidate data, quotas appear to improve women’s probability of being elected.
  • Based on regression analyses of candidate data, women who are given first place in party lists are slightly more likely than men to be elected, particularly where quotas are also used to construct those party lists.
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