Due to several time constraints, I was unable to write several posts regarding my ideas about the implementation of a unique electoral system for European elections, therefore I will mention all of them, in a more brief manner, in this post.
Before entering the discussion, I want to thank Doru Frănţescu, Laurent Uhres, Hristo Hristov, Raimondas Ibenskas and August Oscar for my comments on the previous post, regarding the size of the European Parliament and the number of seats allocated for each member state. Everyone is still welcome to comment on it.
At this moment, several different formulas are used in member states, all of them using the principle of proportional representation, using either blocked lists (like Romania, France or Germany), either preferential voting on open lists (like Denmark, the Czech Republic or Lithuania), single transferable voting (Ireland, Malta and the Northern Ireland district in the UK) or vote splitting (Luxemburg). The electoral thresholds also vary: most member states use the 5% threshold, but Austria and Sweden employ a 4% one. The district magnitude is another essential element in the electoral framework. A significant number of states use the single national constituency, meaning that all voters have to chose from the same candidates put forward by parties for the entire state. Germany, France or Italy divide their territories in several districts or colleges, in which candidates differ.
A full overview of the different electoral systems used in all member states can be found in the Duff report, at page 87 (88 in the pdf document).
As you can see, there is no unitary approach in electing MEP’s, maybe besides the principle of proportional representation used by all states, but which can take various forms and produce different effects depending on the formulas used. This lack of coherence is contradicting the idea that MEP’s no longer represent their states in the EP, but the European parties, and must think European, not national, when debating and voting on legislation. Therefore, there is a need to use the same electoral system in choosing MEP’s at the level of the entire EU, in order to have MEP’s elected in the same way and then ask them to behave European. Under the current conditions, we cannot ask them to give up on their national identities once they are elected, because they came out of elections and electoral campaigns in which they made specific electoral promises, with internal resonance, for the internal electorates that voted for them.
The first proposal I make is to have European parties competing in elections, and not national parties, as it happens now. In any member state, voters should choose one of the parties which actually exist in the European Parliament, such as the Party of European Socialists, the European People’s Party, the European Greens etc. This provision should replace the current one, according to which people vote for national parties, which are members (or not) in European parties or delegate their chosen MEP’s to be part of a specific political group existing in the EP. This would also lead to a coagulation of several parties which may be part of the same European party and, hence, lead to more ideological coherence in national politics when it comes to European issues and in the area of choices available for the electorate. European parties should be the main actors of the European elections. Thus, they should have the chance to put forward lists even in states where they do not have any representing party or where their parties are too weak. For example, Greens are not very well represented in Central and Eastern European states, mainly because the environment is not a big issue in this part of Europe yet. This should also be accompanied by a provision according to which each European party wanting to run in elections should be obliged to have candidates in each member state.
This leads me to another point. The use of transnational lists can be a way to lessen the importance of national pride in the way the EP is structured and also open the eyes of member states to broader European issues. Dissatisfaction with local politicians, which often leads to low turnout rates, can be overcome by proposing candidates coming from other states, which may be more appealing to voters. This would force high ranked officials of each European party to be more active in the campaign, to visit as many states as possible, to get involved in campaigns in order to popularize their parties points of views, thus raising the standards of the debates and focusing them on European issues.
There are several ways in which the electoral formula can be changed, in way that is consistent with the above mentioned elements. One of them would be to use open lists and preferential voting, according to which any voter can nominate the candidate(s) on the list that he or she chooses. Thus, voters would be able to choose a particular list put forward by a party and also rank the candidates of that party according to their own will. Parties may propose for each state a number of candidates equal to the number of MEP’s assigned for that particular state and voters may rank as many candidates as they want from a particular list. This would force all the candidates put forward for a particular state to be active in the campaign, and not restrain the number of eligible candidates to very few, who would be active, while the greatest bulk of candidates would have no interest in participating in debates.
Following the closure of the polls in all member states, the proportional systems should be applied at the level of the entire EU, and not in each member state.
Thus, the procedure of finding out the exact names of newly elected MEP’s should be as follows:
First, the precise total number of MEP’s and the precise number of MEP’s for each state should be established after applying the mechanism described in my previous post, based on the electoral turnout in each state.
Second, the proportionality system should be applied for parties at the EU level. Here the question of the electoral threshold appears. Considering the relatively small number of parties that would compete in European elections, there is a high chance that all of them would be able to pass the 5% threshold usually used in the elections guided by the PR principle. However, any party which can succeed in the difficult task to compete in every member state should be able to gain seats in the EP, no matter the number of votes obtained at the level of the EU.
Third, after determining the number of seats gained by each party, the parties should decide the number of MEP’s which it has gained in each state, based on the results at the national level, where each of their candidates will be classified according to the rankings made by the voters which have opted for that particular party. Thus, in the states where they have won more votes they will have more MEP’s and those candidates which have been the most popular for those who voted for that particular party will gain the seats.
These proposals cover the essential features of a electoral system that would function at the level of the entire EU. Of course, certain technical details should still be decided, but it’s important that the main principles are settled before moving on to technicalities. I believe that these proposals are important in the attempt to shift the focus of “European” elections on Europe and away from national issues. As you can see in the mechanism described above, the direction of the elections is from EU level to national, as opposed to the current mechanism of electing MEP’s, which starts from the national level. I consider this to be essential if we want to speak of real “European” elections.
As always, your comments are essential and are more than welcome. Once again, I express my gratitude to all those that commented so far on my previous posts. I am aware that most of the comments criticized my previous proposal and express doubts that it will actually lead to a higher participation and a higher interest of EU citizens in European elections. Also, many have argued that member states would be willing to give up on their pre-assigned position in the EP. I tend to agree with this rather pessimistic view, but I still consider that proposals for electoral reform should be put forward, because the main incentives for participation can be found in a wisely drafter electoral system. Thus, I believe that together we can draft coherent principles that can become the foundation of a new electoral system.
The floor is yours.