THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

At every election to the European Parliament, and despite the steady increase of its powers, turnout has declined from over 62% in 1979 to under 43% in 2014. Despite the injunction in the treaty to seek a uniform electoral procedure, the 2019 elections will again take place under different national systems. This works against the emergence of a common European democratic space. Although EU level confederations of political parties have been created, the organisation of the European elections is still fully controlled by national political parties. The European dimension of the elections is often lost in narrowly national debates. The ties between the party political groups in the Parliament and the EU level parties are weak, lessening the ability of Parliament to fulfil its role as a democratic counterweight to the Council. 

The vast majority of EU citizens know that most important policy choices today entail a strong transnational dimension. In order to reflect this realisation and give EU citizens a better sense of democratic ownership of the supranational institutions in Brussels, there needs to be a further federalisation of the politics of the EU. Democracy in Europe requires real political parties at European level competing with each other for votes and seats. Federal parties will provide that democratic sinew, presently missing, to connect the citizen with the EU institutions and to lever better policy coordination between the different levels of government. 

A first step towards the Europeanisation of the elections to the European Parliament could be to have a certain number of MEPs elected in a single constituency comprising the whole territory of the Union [15].  Citizens would get two votes, one as now for an MEP from the national or regional constituency, the other for an MEP from the pan-European constituency drawn from candidates standing on transnational lists promoted by the EU political parties. An EU electoral authority would be needed to control the electoral process and to account for the running of the pan-EU election, in collaboration with national electoral authorities. 

The introduction of transnational lists for the next elections in 2024 would consolidate the practice of the Spitzenkandidat whereby EU level political parties champion a candidate for election as Commission President [16].  This experiment, first tried in 2014, adds interest and visibility to the campaign by giving faces to an electoral process that has often felt remote. After the election results are known, and following a navette between the heads of government and the newly-elected MEPs, the European Council then nominates the candidate for the Commission President [17].  Finally, the President-elect and his or her college of Commissioners are elected as a whole by the Parliament.

The treaty should be amended to provide that elections to the Parliament are by way of “a free, fair and secret ballot” [18].

Two further reforms are needed to enhance the standing of the European Parliament. The first is to give Parliament’s committees of enquiry the power of subpoena to summon reluctant witnesses [19].  The second is to revise the statute of privileges and immunity to better protect MEPs from possible political persecution while obliging them, where appropriate, to face criminal prosecution [20].

[15] To install transnational lists, the 1976 electoral Act will be amended, followed by secondary legislation in terms of a regulation on the uniform electoral procedure under Articles 223 and 224 TFEU. 
[16] At their meeting at Meseberg on 19 June 2018, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel agreed to promote transnational lists for 2024.
[17] Article 17(7) TEU. The European Council shall act “taking into account the elections … and after having held the appropriate consultations”.
[18] Article 14(3) TEU. 
[19] Article 226 TFEU.
[20] Protocol No. 7.

 

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