Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Eastern Europe shuns petition for pan-EU MEP candidates

  • Almost 9,000 people from the UK signed a petition to support so-called transnational lists, allowing MEP candidates to receive votes from more than one EU country. If this system were ever adopted, it would be after Brexit (Photo: sgoldswo)

A petition to support the establishment of transnational electoral lists, which would allow candidate MEPs to run in multiple EU countries, has almost exclusively been signed by citizens from countries that had been EU members since 1995 or before.

Of the more than 62,000 virtual signatures submitted via a petition, set up by the We Move Europe platform, only 2 percent are from one of the thirteen member states that joined the EU in 2004 and later.

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  • Should MEPs represent citizens from more than one country? (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

Each of these thirteen member states were underrepresented in the petition, when compared to their population sizes - 20 percent of the EU's overall population.

The bulk of the support came from citizens who reported Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and, remarkably, the United Kingdom as their country of origin.

"Candidates running for the European Parliament in upcoming elections should be accountable to all EU citizens, and not only to their national electorate," the petition web page said.

"Time has come to elect members of parliament no longer based on their country of origin and to allow them to run across Europe," it said.

The petition had been set up prior to a debate and vote on transnational lists in the EU parliament last week. A summit will take place in Brussels next Friday, where EU leaders will discuss the 2019 EU parliament elections.

European space for public debate

The European Commission also weighed in on the issue on Wednesday (14 February), by commenting on it in a paper.

Although commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has expressed sympathy for the idea, the support for it in the document was not overwhelming, but rather contemplative.

"A transnational constituency could strengthen the European dimension of the election by giving candidates the possibility to reach more citizens across Europe," the commission's paper said.

"It could be coherent with the lead candidate process, as it would arguably create a European space for public debate and a more visible role for European political parties," it added.

MEPs last week removed all references to the idea from a parliament resolution, after a fierce plenary debate.

Some argued that transnational lists were vital to create a truly European democratic debate, while others said that citizens were not interested in voting for candidate MEPs from other countries.

There is little objective evidence for either claim, and the petition is by no means representative of the EU's population.

Nevertheless, because it captured the most active supporters of the idea, looking at its signatories gives an insight into who does want it.

Germany, France ...and the UK?

We Move shared the data with EUobserver for analysis, and said submissions were only accepted after people had clicked a confirmation email sent to their address - making it more likely that the support was genuine.

It turned out that a disproportionately large share of the petition's supporters were German: 43 percent - while Germans make up 'only' 16 percent of the EU's population.

The second-largest group of supporters - just over 14 percent - said they were from the United Kingdom, which is remarkable given that that country is scheduled to leave the EU before the next EU parliament elections.

Another 14 percent of supporters were French.

Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom made up 77 percent of the signatures - even though they only account for 46 percent of the EU's population.

The large contingent of French supporters was not entirely surprising, given that French president Emmanuel Macron has been one of the main advocates of the idea.

Conversely, the leaders of the four Visegrad countries - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia - seem to have been in line with their citizens by rejecting the idea.

That is to say, only 1.1 percent of signatories came from these four central and eastern European countries, which make up 12.6 percent of the EU's population.

Almost one percent of the signatories submitted Switzerland or Other as their country of residence. Switzerland is not a member of the EU and its citizens cannot vote in EU parliament elections.

Centre-right torpedoes pan-EU electoral lists plan

Parliament's largest group, the EPP, nixes idea of MEPs elected by citizens from multiple member states - but backs plans to keep the 'Spitzenkandidat' system for 2019, which hands power to parliament (and thus voters) to select Commission president.

EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'

The 'Brussels bubble' ideas for transnational electoral lists was put on ice at the summit, while Jean-Claude Juncker's idea for an EU 'super president' was also rejected. The 'Spitzenkandidat' proposal backed by the European parliament also suffered a rebuff.

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