Europe’s Road to Democracy

, by Jo Leinen

Europe's Road to Democracy

German Member of the European Parliament Jo Leinen argues that although the EU Commission President is no longer chosen in backroom deals, more remains to be done before achieving a fully democratic Europe.

Despite some negative predictions and heavy attacks of some heads of state and government, the European party families were successful with their project to nominate top-candidates for the office of Commission President before the European elections. In the end nobody could sensibly contest the right of Jean-Claude Juncker – the candidate of the victorious European People’s Party (EPP) – to lead the new European Commission. Even the threats of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who warned that a decision for Juncker might accelerate the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, could not hamper Juncker’s nomination. Instead, Cameron had to accept a historic defeat in the European Council. For the very first time the European Council did not decide by consensus on a question related to the European Union’s leadership. Cameron and the Hungarian Viktor Orbán – not really a role-model democrat – were simply outvoted by the other 26 Member States.

The 2014 European elections thus constitute a historic leap towards a more democratic European Union. The European Parliament and the European party families stood firm and thereby created possibilities to furtherly strengthen European democracy. With the now established precedent, shady backroom decisions about the Commission President are a thing of the past. In the Member States a candidate can only become Prime Minister or Chancellor, if he can rely on a majority in the parliament. The same mechanism now also applies to the European elections and the election of the Commission President. A person can only lay claim to lead the European executive, if he or she runs in the elections as one of the European party families’ top-candidates and wins the support of the majority of newly elected members of parliament, the representatives of the European people. Nevertheless, this is only the beginning of a new development.

The campaigns of the European top candidates were not equally visible in all 28 Member States. This was partly due to the uncertain outcome of the initiative to nominate top candidates. Additionally, the constitutional role and the material resources of the European party families have to be improved in order to increase their ability to reach out to the more than 380 million European voters. However, the decisive factor is that the elections to the European Parliament are still dominated nationally. Each Member State has a fixed contingent of deputies, which are elected in the national context, in accordance with national rules and following campaigns managed by national parties. As a consequence the social-democrat top candidate Martin Schulz was electable only in Germany. The Conservative candidate Juncker could not even be found on the ballot in his home country Luxembourg.

With a view to the European elections in 2019, this discrepancy has to be removed. The European Treaties explicitly foresee the right of initiative for the European Parliament to propose a common European electoral law. This right should be used very soon, so that the European Parliament can enter with a strong position into negotiations with the Member States. Who wants to be Commission President of all Europeans must have the possibility to fight for the support of all European voters. It is therefore high time to create a true European electoral law. Already the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) of 1952 contained – as all subsequent Treaties – the mandate for such a common electoral law. This provision, however, has never been fully implemented. The Member States could only agree on basic common principles such as the principle of proportional representation.

A more developed European electoral system is necessary for numerous reasons. By linking the national electoral registers, the cast of multiple votes by single voters could be prevented. In Germany the problem of multiple voting came recently under discussion, after the Italian-German journalist Giovanni di Lorenzo publicly stated he had voted in both Italy and Germany. Furthermore certain requirements on the national parties when producing their candidate lists could be established, since the process is not sufficiently transparent in all Member States.

Most importantly, however, the European electoral law should provide that a share of MEPs is elected on transnational lists, which are determined by the European party families at their European congresses. This would not lead to the disempowerment of the national parties, since they constitute the member base of the party families and would thus influence the lists’ composition in a democratic process. The top candidates should lead the European lists, thus being directly electable in all Member States of the European Union. As a result, the election campaigns would be shaped much more by Europe-wide issues and European personalities, instead of national issues that are sometimes not even in the competence of the European Union, as it is currently the case. With the election of Jean-Claude Juncker democracy has prevailed over diplomacy. This development should be continued with a decision on a European electoral law containing European electoral lists.

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