20 April, 2011
"A big step forward for a United European Democracy": Andrew Duff on electoral reform
A European ballot for a truly European election is at the heart of a proposal by Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee to overhaul European Elections, three decades after they were first held in 1979. Acting on an initiative by British Liberal MEP, Andrew Duff, the Committee is proposing setting aside 25 seats for candidates elected through Europe-wide lists presented by the European political parties, starting with the next elections in 2014.

The proposal was endorsed by the Committee by 20 votes to 4 with no abstentions and will be submitted to a vote in plenary in June, with the rapporteur, Andrew Duff arguing that a radical change in electoral procedure will increase turnout, enhance the European dimension of the election campaigns, personalise the election campaign and galvanise the development of the European political parties.

The Committee also wishes to respond to the current situation in which the allocation of seats in the House contravenes the Treaty principle of degressive proportionality.

One Union, one list

The centrepiece of the proposal is the attribution of an added 25 seats in Parliament to candidates proposed by the European political parties throughout the 27 member states.

Voters will thus cast two ballots in the European elections, one for the traditional national party candidates and one for pan-European candidates proposed by the European political parties.

These members will be elected in a pan-EU constituency from transnational lists which will be gender balanced with candidates drawn from at least a third of states. These lists will be established by the European political parties and the election will be regulated by a new EU electoral authority. In effect, every elector would have two votes - one for the national or regional list and one for the transnational list.

Furthermore the report calls for a dialogue to be opened with the governments on finding a mathematical formula for the redistribution of the current 751 seats, in order to prepare for enlargement and to bring the composition of the House in line with the Treaty-based principle of degressive proportionality.

The election date should also be brought forward from June to May thereby enabling Parliament to properly prepare for the election of the new Commission President which itself should ideally take place in July.

Other elements

The committee calls for greater efforts to increase the representation of women and minority candidates and calls on the Commission to represent a new draft Directive on the right of EU citizens to stand and vote in a state other than their own. Finally, it proposes a revision to the 1965 Protocol on Immunities and Privileges which would install a supranational regime for the European Parliament designed for modern standards.

Reacting to the vote, Andrew Duff said: “MEPs from all the main party groups have reached a strong consensus on the need to reform Parliament. Under the proposed scheme, the next European elections in 2014 will take on a genuine European dimension. The opportunity of using a second vote for transnational MEPs should galvanise voters who have come to recognise that national political parties no longer work to sustain European integration in an efficient or democratic way".

The introduction of transnational lists will turn the existing EU parties - not allowed to campaign for voters or seat so far – into real campaigning organisations. Their candidates will be seeking support and recruiting members even in those states where they lack national political affiliates.

The 25 candidates of the transnational list will be, with all probability, leading European politicians or celebrities from other walks of life, helping to give the election campaign a wider following. “I have no objection to celebrities in politics," says Duff. "There is no reason to doubt that the political parties will choose their candidates responsibly".


Yes but…

Won't national political parties be against the proposals? "If we really want a successful post-national parliamentary democracy, Europe's political class has to move with the times. So far national politicians have been rather bad at connecting citizens with the EU" Duff says, adding that "It will not be acceptable for those national politicians who are so critical of the European Parliament to refuse to contemplate its reform".

But won't small countries be at a disadvantage? For Andrew Duff, "under Lisbon, MEPs now represent citizens and parties and not states". In any case though, "voters from large and small countries will have the option of supporting a candidate of another nationality and my guess is that many will do so. That's the essence of post-national Europe."

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