23rd Feb 2024

No majority for reforms for 2024 European Parliament election

  • Spanish state secretary of EU affairs, Pascual Ignacio Navarro Rios hands a bouquet to Swedish EU affairs minister Jessika Roswall as his country takes over the EU's rotating presidency from July (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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There has been no agreement among EU countries on the European Parliament's proposals on how to revamp the European elections before voters go to the ballot boxes a year from now.

As expected, most member states have remained sceptical about the proposals to introduce transnational lists in the European elections, or to back the so-called Spitzenkandidat process , under which the most successful European political family get to choose the next EU Commission president.

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"Our positions are too far apart to reach the desired compromise," Croatian state secretary for EU affairs Andreja Metelko-Zgombic summed up succinctly on Tuesday (27 June) during the public debate of EU ministers on the topic.

The European Parliament adopted the initiative in May 2022 to create the seeds of a European electorate, with the aim of creating a European political arena, and increase voter participation in the European elections.

The 2014 European elections saw the lowest-ever turnout at 42.6 percent, with a slight increase in 2019 to 50.6 percent.

Elections in 2024 are due to take place from 6 to 9 June.

Some see creating common election rules as a logical next step in European integration, but others see it as yet another tool for the European Parliament to grab power from the other EU institutions.

The current Swedish EU presidency prepared a survey, asking all member states (and getting 24 responses), about the proposals, including lowering the voting age to 16 across the bloc for the European elections, and creating one single voting day.

"A majority of member states opposed the lead candidate process on the grounds that it conflicted with the institutional balance set out in the treaty, would undermine the commission's impartial role and would favour candidates from the larger member states," the presidency's survey, seen by EUobserver, said.

In 2019, EU leaders — in an unexpected move — chose Ursula von der Leyen, who did not run in the EU elections, instead of Manfred Weber, who was the lead candidate of the centre-right European People's Party, which won the most seats in the assembly.

The presidency also said that a large majority of member states "could not support transnational lists due to serious legal and institutional issues".

The parliament's proposals would have allowed citizens to cast their ballots for 28 European lawmakers on so-called transnational lists, out of the 705 MEPs in the assembly.

"These ideas are not compatible with the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity and could in fact be counterproductive in terms of electoral participation," Hungary's justice minister Judit Varga warned.

The presidency also noted that "there is a firm and broad opposition to setting the voting age at 16", and objected to the idea of the single election day.

The document said that "several member states opposed imposing strict quotas on gender on political parties, who should freely nominate candidates", and that "a reference to 'non-binary' was also unacceptable for some".

There has been agreement among EU countries, however, on making 9 May, Europe Day, a public holiday, making voting accessible for those with reduced mobility, and sanctioning double voting.

While talks are due to continue on the issue, on Tuesday several EU affairs ministers argued that there is not enough time now to adopt the necessary changes before the 2024 European elections.

Austria's EU minister Karoline Edtstadler said "it would simply not be feasible" until the next elections.

French and German support

However, the two largest EU countries backed the parliament's ideas.

France's state minister Laurence Boon argued in favour of the parliament's reforms, and said that "democracy in Europe would gain were we able to get a position".

Germany's state minister for Europe, Anna Lührmann said the transnational lists "could indeed help us to make European parties more visible, to ensure national parties could take a more Europe-wide approach,"

She added these lists could help create "European political awareness".

Ministers also discussed the parliament's more recent proposal to increase the number of seats in the parliament by 11, giving the extra seats — based on demographic changes — to Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Ireland, Slovenia and Latvia.

A decision on that is expected later by member states.

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