Thursday 1 July 2010

European Electoral Reform

There is a draft report to the EP Committee on Constitutional Affairs on reforming European electoral law so there'll be a uniform approach throughout the EU (PDF).

It goes beyond simply having the same PR system used in all member states (or, at least similar ones), and sets forward several interesting proposals:

- Restricting the voting days to Saturday and Sunday (it's Thursday and Friday in the UK and Ireland respectively). Also, it's proposed that European elections should take place in May, and not June, in order to give MEPs time to prepare to elect the Commission President before the summer recess - clearly the proposal wants more time for coalition-building, which would mean that the EP would be in a better position to decide on a presidential candidate(s) versus the Council, which would be confronted with a clearer EP outcome earlier, and be less able to present it with a fait accompli.

- Having regional constituencies for countries with a population of over 20 million (personally I think that the population threshold is too high here - there's four constituencies in Ireland, with a population of just over 4 million, and I think that having constituencies makes it clearer that MEPs are meant to represent the citizen directly).

- Having (possibly) a transnational EU-wide constituency (a figure of 25 extra MEPs is floated - the main question here is whether these are 25 extra MEPs on top of the 751 in the treaty, or a reassignment of other MEPs to transnational constituencies? From the draft report it reads like the former is being proposed [Note: on reading the legislative amendments, the latter appears more likely], but there may be legal questions over either option). Transnational lists would have to be gender-balanced, and consist of candidates from at least 1/3 of member states. So there would be one constituency vote, and one transnational vote per voter.

- An electoral authority would be established at European level to monitor the transnational constituency.

- Introducing a mathematical formula to redistribute seats according to demographic changes to depoliticalise the process. The allocation of seats will remain "degressively proportional": each state will have a minimum of 6 MEPs, and there's a maximum of 96. The allocation would be reviewed during the mandate of each Parliament.

- Electoral systems should be either open party list or voting for a candidate. The open list system will be a big improvement over the closed list system in the UK - if this is adopted, UK voters will be able to vote in preference for candidates on the party list of their choice, rather than voting for pre-set party lists that gives a lot of power to the party organisation.

- The proposed voting age is 16, and to stand for election, candidates must be 18 or over.

In addition to this, the proposal advocates that European parties and member states encourage EU citizens residing in states other than their home states to exercise their right to vote. It also calls for national laws to be harmonised on when someone can or can't vote in national elections - the implication is that, if you're an EU citizen, you should be able to vote in the national elections of the Member State you are resident in (and as a consequence, cannot vote in the national elections of your home state). In some member states these rights are already enshrined in law: for example, in the recent election in the Netherlands, non-Dutch EU citizens resident in the Netherlands could vote.

The Council has to agree on electoral reform, and though the proposal was discussed in the Committee on the 2nd June, it will be discussed with national Parliaments on the 30th Spetmeber, so it should be stressed that, despite the number of changes prosed, it's very much in the early stages. Generally the proposals seem sensible and will make the elections more European in character. The actual language of the amendments themselves (included in the annex of the PDF) shows a change in how the MEPs want themselves to be presented - not as national delegations (though the numbers are preserved as national delegations in the Treaties), but as "representatives of the citizens of the Union", which is the political rationale of the EP in any case.

[One thing I have been wondering about changing, though, is removing the restriction on and MEP being a member of the Commission... But then I'm drawn to the parliamentary model, and that kind of change might be best left for a separate reform and discussion.]


  1. These reforms in the electoral process should be discussed objectively and thoroughly. These might have long-standing implications to the EU in general. So, before anything is decided, the Council has to be sure that it will do good and not harm.

  2. That reform is needed, might not continue without having a genuine European elections and instead we have 27 different national elections.
    Perhaps you have to agree on the substance of these European elections, but the way we already have and is the reform of the European Electoral Act to make it a real election law.