EU Bubble

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Brussels, 12 February 2018 – Doriane de Lestrange

The UK’s departure from the EU will leave 73 seats of the European Parliament free which will need to be reapportioned. Different solutions have been proposed, including the introduction of so called transnational lists.

 

This system would create an EU-wide constituency for which a list of candidates from different member states would be submitted to all EU citizens. This would give each EU citizen a second vote in the election. One for its traditional vote for national constituencies, and another one for transnational candidates.

 

During its last plenary session in Strasbourg, the EU Parliament voted against (on 7 February) this proposed reform of the EU elections system. However, and awaiting the Council’s informal meeting of 23 February during which heads of states will discuss the matter, it remains important to analyse it.

 

According to its supporters, transnational lists would breathe new life into EU elections by allowing European politicians to make decisions based on an EU-wide scale rather than on their own countries sole interests and preoccupations. Furthermore supporters to this idea believe that the election of the European Commission’s President would no longer be the expression of a parliamentary majority (via the Spitzenkandidaten system) but the consecration of the universal suffrage.

 

However, it seems necessary to adopt a more nuanced approach towards these arguments and to pay attention to possible derives. As Jean-Luc Dehaene (vice-chairman of the European Convention) said, transnational lists can be a “bad good idea”. Indeed, several reservations can be raised about this system.

 

The EU is not a federation, nor a federal state. Europe is not one big country without specificities but 28 (soon 27) member states, each of them having specific concerns which are mutually and commonly thought out. Even if it were, such lists do not exist in traditional federal states such as Germany or the US or in big countries such as Russia. Transnational lists and the idea of presenting one political manifesto and one list of candidates to all EU citizens across the territory of the whole Union would not make the EU election process more genuine. It would mean to pretend that EU is a huge federation into which EU member states sovereignty and characteristics have no, or a lot less, value. This is not what the EU is. The assertion given by some, according to which European parties are an artificial collection of national parties and their domestic bases go against this reality that the EU is not one big state and that, in this regard, this collection is not artificial. On the contrary, it is a real life illustration that, in its current shape, the UE still takes into account its member states sovereignty and their domestic reality.

 

In traditional political science, the core function of members of a parliament is to represent people who voted for them and to interact with them at local and national (or in our case European) level. In such a transnational list MEPs would, so to speak, represent everyone and no one at the same time, the geographical component being suppressed thus detaching MEPs from their local constituents. Even if under the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs do not represent their nationals but the European Unions’ citizens, in the end who they represent is the people who voted for them, that is to say, almost always and with only a few exceptions, their own nationals.

 

European elections happen following very different ways throughout EU member states. Age limit of the candidates, closed-list system or preferential voting system, electoral threshold or not… In short, how would a transnational European list work properly while member states do not have the same electoral rules to elect their own members of the same Parliament ? This absence of harmonization can be perceived as highly revealing.

 

It is also easily seen that this system could balance more in favour of the larger EU countries. It is easier for candidates from such countries to gather an important number of votes than from the ones from smaller countries. Furthermore, imagining that each country could only win a limited number of seats on the transnational election, such a rule would result in a serious competition between candidates in each country, making no difference with the already existing battle between candidates fighting the national campaign. The will to make European elections more … European would in that aspect seem vain.

 

It is very unlikely that this system will be applied to 2019 elections as members states have not succeeded yet in harmonizing and creating common rules for the European elections. At a time where EU citizens are going through numerous doubts about the EU and feeling a confidence gap between voters and elected representatives, man can only wonder if it would be a good idea to widen this gap even further.

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