’The irony is that this happened on the 26th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty’

, by Jakub Zientala

'The irony is that this happened on the 26th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty'
EU flags at half mast in front of the European Commission’s Berlaymont building, 2015. © European Union 2015 - European Parliament

Jakub Zientala, President of JEF-Netherlands, explains the European Parliament’s vote on transnational lists and joins the chorus of JEF voices critical of the Parliament’s decision.

Yesterday marked exactly 26 years from the signature of the Maastricht Treaty. A treaty that created a history and marked the difference between old and new. A treaty that established the European Union as it is today. Whether it was good or bad decision, I will leave it to the reader to decide. This magical and somehow nostalgic anniversary is not the reason why I am writing these words. My reason for writing these words is simple. I mourn that on this day, the EU lost its chance to become a more democratic and unified body. It missed its historic opportunity to advance integration to the next level and to give it new deeper meaning.

The European Parliament made a final decision on what to do with the 73 seats that will be left vacant after the United Kingdom leaves our European family, thus sealing the final shape of the European Parliament for the 2019–2024 term. A few different ideas have been contested by the MEPs, among them one that supports current status quo; redistribution of the vacant seats among the national quotas; or more innovative and what I personally think better idea; creating the pan-European constituency.

Sadly the status quo prevailed and we will not see true pan-European elections anytime soon, at least for the next six years.

What is this about?

After the formal ‘’divorce’’ of the UK with the EU in March next year, the European Parliament would gain new legitimacy, and would become a body that truly represents the citizens of a united Europe. The plan was that 46 out of 73 former British seats would be allocated to transnational list, meaning that all citizens across the EU could vote on the elected 46 names to represent ‘’Europeans’’ in the European Parliament. The remaining 27 seats would be redistributed among 14 states that are slightly underrepresented.

Such lists could seriously turn the tide in European Politics and give more democratic legitimacy to the EU, which is often seen as a cold and lifeless bureaucratic body devoid of a sense of humanity. (Which in my option couldn’t be any more further from the truth.)

A new group of MEPs, elected by the people of the entire Union, would have a refreshing effect and in the long term would only strengthen the feeling of being European among citizens of the Union. There are many more reasons in favour of this idea, which I am not going to discuss here. However, many more reasons have been enumerated by Alberto Alemanno on Euractiv.

It is sad to see that the European lawmakers have missed a historic chance to give more influence to the EU’s citizens, especially the most devout followers who consider themselves European (myself included among them). The irony is that this happened on the 26th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty.

Why did it fail?

The pan-European constituency would drastically change the landscape of European politics. It would give a rise to a new class of elected politicians. Politicians who would think about EU in different than national categories. MEPs who care about the Union as a whole in the first place and nation-states as second or third priority. This would drastically change dynamics within the EU and could elevate discourse about a United States of Europe to a whole new level. This idea is of course not well-regarded among EU Member States who want to claim the title of representation of the will of people (nations) of Europe for themselves. Currently the only country that openly supports a European constituency is France and President Macron, who strongly advocates this option.

“France will continue to defend this idea in the months and years to come because it would contribute to strengthening European democracy by creating debates on European challenges and not strictly national ones during EU elections – Emmanuel Macron”

Another reason why European Parliament voted this proposal down with 368 votes against versus 274 in favour is an opinion dominating among centre-right European People Party. The viewpoint of the EPP is that there is no legal basis for transnational lists. In the words of Gyorgy Schopfin MEP from the European People’s Party: Not only is there no legal basis for such an experiment, what we’re looking at is yet another elite-driven project in Europe that will only end up making the EU even more remote from the voters than they already are.

I’d like to remind MEPs from EPP, that in the light of the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliamentarians represent the citizens of the EU, at the Union level. Therefore legal basis exists WITHIN the TREATIES. ( Tit 2, Art 8A par 2 TEU).

Yet the thing that really hurts me the most as a devout European federalist is the fact that the man who should be an example for all of us, the President of the Union of European Federalists, voted AGAINST the proposal which UEF had promoted so hard! In his interview for Euronews, Elmar Brok said that no voter would see an MEP elected from the transnational list as their candidate, and they would not know ‘whose ass they should kick’ if a transnational MEP fails.

Glimpse of hope

On the meeting of the European governments on 23 February, national leaders will decide on final fate of the transnational lists. I would like to call on all my fellow JEFers to reach out in every way possible to our national leaders and push them to decide in favour of pan-European constituency. I hope we will be able to mobilise enough visible numbers to show our lawmakers, that young people feel ever more EUROPEAN!

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