Is it too early to talk about the European Elections in 2024? Yannis Karamitsios thinks not and in this collaborative piece with Marcela Valkova, together, they review crucial talking points around the system of voting and transnational lists.
The situation today
While we are in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, the European Union Member States are joining forces to eliminate this pandemic and for now, this is the topic getting the most deservedly receiving the most media attention. While we are not even close to the election period of 2024 to the European Parliament (EP), this may be another good reason to move to an ever closer union by sending an early warning signals concerning a long-pending issue: EP elections on the basis of transnational lists.
The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU introduces the right of the EP to draw up a proposal for the election of its members by direct universal suffrage under Article 223. That election shall be carried out upon a uniform procedure in all EU member states. The EU Council shall then lay down the necessary provisions, acting unanimously and after obtaining the consent of the EP.
This is an important provision because it sets the possibility to adopt a pan-EU election law without the need to amend the Treaty, which is a quite a burdensome and complicated exercise.
Under the current rules, members of the EP are elected through national lists only. Based on the number of seats allocated, each Member State organises European elections on its territory, while respecting a certain number of common rules. As a result, the European elections today are essentially twenty seven national elections to the EP, and they do not reflect its nature.
We consider this a paradox. Members of the EP should be direct representatives of European citizens as they do not represent individual Member States, regions or any specific constituencies. However, during the EP elections, their campaigns get completely national dimension, and very often national issues become the single focus of these elections. Consequently, there is no proper space for European political discussion in which the European legislators can debate their projects in front of all Europeans. Μembers of the same European political parties, but in different Member States, frequently put forward contradictory programmes at national level, even though they will ultimately sit together in the same political groups when elected to the EP as it was the case of Viktor Orbán and Angela Merkel in the European People Party (EPP).
Unfortunately, a big chance was lost in February 2018. That was the time when the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted against the creation of transnational lists for the 2019 elections. It seems that a similar trend prevails today, and the chance might also be missed for 2024, as the EP prefers to postpone that discussion and include it in the scope of the Conference on the Future of Europe. This is unnecessary and unfortunate because, as we previously pointed out, they take place under the current provisions of the Treaties, without further constitutional developments.
What should be done
A Europe-wide constituency should be created already before the 2024 European elections, whereby political parties would run through transnational European lists to some extent. Although we are not discussing the topic of Commission leadership under this article, those party lists could be led by the Spitzenkandidaten for the presidency of the European Commission.
About 30% of the MEPs should be elected on the transnational European lists. This would result in a vote on two lists, which could be included in the same ballot paper of each political party: the European list and the national list.
The European political parties should be visible by placing their names and logos on the European lists of the ballot papers. They should be also displayed in television and radio campaign broadcasts, posters and other material used in European election campaigns.
The candidates of the European lists should reflect the diversity of European population and be representative geographically as well as gender balanced. In addition, we would favour the system of preferential votes, namely a possibility for the voters to select the candidates they wish. This might however lead to some distortions, because some candidates might simply gather more votes thanks to their more populous nationality (e.g. German candidates might get many more votes than the Slovaks of the same list of a political party). For this reason, we would support an option to elect the top candidates of each party list, in the order in which they appear, provided there is a gender and national balance in the electable places.
Why does it matter?
The citizens of the EU Member States are not just nationals of their respective country, but they are also EU citizens. The EU represents a small and densely populated territory, where even the citizens of the most remote areas feel the reverberations of its policies: regional funds, infrastructure projects, agricultural subsidies, training on new skills and so on. The EU flags and logos can be seen everywhere around them. It is thus important and useful that all EU citizens get the chance to vote at a purely European level, next to the national one. This does not mean they would have to give up any of their multiple identities. But casting a vote on a European list would help them think out of their local or national boxes while adding a European identity. Moreover, some voters may find themselves better informed about what is happening in Brussels or Strasbourg.
We therefore believe that it is crucial that all institutions, and especially the EP, start working towards this direction. Time flies quickly and it will be unfortunate, if in 2024, we run yet again 27 different national elections without having the opportunity to launch the first truly European debate. If we manage, this would become a great opportunity for the European citizens to start thinking truly European.
Disclaimer: The authors are employed by the European Commission but their views are strictly personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of that institution.