Why do MEPs fear electoral reform?
By Andrew Duff
Against expectations, this week the European Parliament again flunked a vote to reform its own electoral procedure. Despite strong backing from the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the key element of the reform, which is the creation of a pan-European constituency, proves too controversial.
Under my proposals, 25 MEPs would be elected for a pan-European constituency. The transnational lists would be composed of candidates of at least nine nationalities drawn up by the European political parties. They would not favour any specific nationality. MEPs for the pan-European constituency would be directly accountable both to the European political parties and to the electorate (much like any other MEP).
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The question of transnational lists has been discussed for many years within the Parliament and among the European political parties, many of which see potential benefits to their own development once they are made responsible for the selection of candidates on the transnational lists, for electoral campaigning and for holding pan-European MEPs to account.
Parliament has not reformed its electoral procedure since 1999 - before the Treaties of Nice and Lisbon and before the great enlargement of the Union. During that period, the powers of the institutions and the competences of the Union have grown dramatically.
Legitimacy of parliament
We must ask ourselves whether the efficacy and legitimacy of the European Parliament have kept pace with these constitutional changes. Certainly the declining turnout at every European Parliamentary election, and the rise of nationalist forces in many if not all EU states, would suggest otherwise.
Now the Union is moving to greater fiscal discipline and the probable installation of a more federal type of economic government which will have to be made directly accountable to Parliament. But do we sincerely believe that the European Parliament has attracted the desirable levels of loyalty and identification of the EU citizens and taxpayers that are implied by such important democratic responsibilities?
As Parliament begins to prepare for the next elections in 2014, are we confident that the quality of the election campaign will be such an advance on previous elections that the electors will see that, in voting for MEPs, real choices can be made about the direction of the EU polity?
Can we not agree that Europe's national political parties are now failing to sustain its integration process in a fitting manner? Do the media report the politics of Parliament in a thorough and fluent way?
Surely only European political parties and not national political parties will be able to offer real choices at election time about, for example, the name of the new President of the Commission, the pace of enlargement, or the size and shape of the EU budget?
My second report recognises that some issues concerning the pan-European proposal are particularly sensitive - namely, the timing of the reforms, the choice between closed or semi-open lists and the question of whether the 25 pan-European MEPs should come on top of the 751 existing deputies or be drawn from among them.
The report composes an agenda for the inevitable negotiations with the Council which is designed to achieve a comprehensive package deal on a range of issues, including the date of the elections, the revision of the 1976 Act and the modernisation of the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities (which still remains unchanged since 1965).
The report also prepares the ground for the necessary negotiations on seat apportionment between nationalities after the accession of Croatia. The Committee prefers to search for a new durable and transparent system for the distribution of the existing 751 seats in preference to the present unseemly bartering.
One wonders why so many MEPs are intimidated by the prospect of making a radical proposal for electoral reform. If the initiative were launched by the plenary, the details of all these changes would remain a matter for unanimity agreement with the Council. Parliament would have to give its consent to any final package.
We are missing the opportunity to bolster the political legitimacy of the European Parliament and to galvanise European political parties. It is perfectly clear that left to their own devices, national political parties and governments will never engage the voters with the politics of the European Union.
We are left facing the serious challenge of how a stronger European Parliament might best contribute to the better government of a more united Europe.
The writer is a Liberal Member of the European Parliament