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7th Jun 2020

MEPs seek to harmonize EU election law

  • MEPs would make online and postal voting available for EU citizens living outside the bloc (Photo: Mortimer62)

MEPs endorsed a proposal on electoral reform Wednesday (11 November) that would have citizens vote for the EU Commission president and Europe-wide party lists in 2019.

If member states sign up to the idea, the reforms to the 1976 EU electoral law would mean the EU-wide "top candidates" for the Commission presidency would have to stand in the European Parliament election.

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MEPs voted by 315 votes to 234 in favour, with 55 abstentions, on a proposal designed to strengthen the European character of the EP elections.

“The European Union today, and the European Community back in 1976, are two different worlds. Europe has changed. The world has changed. The European Parliament has changed dramatically. We needed to change this law,” Danuta Huebner, a Polish centre-right MEP who co-wrote the report, told press Thursday.

The idea is for citizens to have two votes, one for national lists of candidates and one for an EU-wide list of European parties. Leading the European lists would be the candidates for the presidency of the Commission.

In the last election in 2014, EU parties already named top candidates, called "Spitzenkandidaten" in EU jargon, on a voluntary basis, but there were no EU-wide lists.

The Spitzenkandidat whose party became the largest, eventual Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, was not on any ballot, and told this website during the campaign: "I don't want to become a member of the European Parliament."

MEPs now aim to give citizens a direct say.

“Political parties want to fight for mandates, achieve power. Now the European parties are paralysed,” Jo Leinen, a German centre-left MEP, the other co-rapporteur, told EUobserver on Thursday, noting that it is the third time the EP has come up with the list idea, last time 10 years ago.

He argued that party lists would “immediately change public debate on Europe,” as a transnational discussion would emerge during the campaign.

A key question is how many percent of the MEPs would come from the national lists and from the EU list. The proposal does not specify a number, which is up for discussion.

Leinen would ideally see 10 percent of the MEPs elected from the EU list, which would be 75 deputies.

Candidates would have to be named 12 weeks before the election, to give ample time for campaigning.

Naming candidates in the last minute, a practice widely used by national parties nowadays, sends the message that parties don’t take EP elections seriously enough, so why should citizens? - Leinen argues.

“European elections are second class elections now, we want to make them first class,” the German MEP said.

Thresholds

The proposal adopted Wednesday also calls for the introduction of thresholds - a minimum of 3 percent and a maximum of 5 percent - for parties in member states to send deputies to Brussels.

This means that Spain and Germany would need to introduce thresholds. It could be controversial in Germany, as the Constitutional Court there has abolished the threshold for the European elections.

The proposal would also make it possible for EU citizens living abroad to vote in elections electronically, or by mail.

Four countries (the Czech Republic, Ireland, Malta, and Slovakia did not provide possibilities for citizens abroad to vote in 2014).

To stop double-voting in the EP, MEPs want EU countries to exchange data on voters.

MEPs would also have bigger visibility on ballot papers and campaign material for the names and logos of EU parties.

Up to member states

Discussions on the proposal will start next week with the Luxembourgish presidency, Leinen said.

What makes the proposal especially tricky to put into law is that member states will have to decide by unanimity, and will, in the end, likely water down the proposals.

Leinen argued that member states will have to justify to the public, whether they make the EU elections “workable, attractive, transparent, European”, or leave them as they are.

Huebner noted that member states would need to incorporate the new law into their legislation before the 2019.

“We don’t have so much time,” she said.

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