In this contribution, Sebastien Martin from France, discusses how to transform Brexit into a chance for European Democracy and relaunch the topic of transnational lists for the European Parliament. In particular, he supports Emmanuel Macron’s idea to use the 73 UK seats.
Back in the 1950s, the three European founding treaties stated that “the European Parliament shall consist of delegates who shall be designated by the respective Parliaments from among their members in accordance with the procedure laid down by each Member State”. But, already fixing their aim higher, they gave to the Parliament the task to “draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States”. The first point is, as we all know, a reality since the European Electoral Act of 1976, which enabled the first European elections by direct suffrage three years later. The second point though – a uniform procedure covering a pan-European circumscription – remained, until now, unachieved
- The constitutional framework: the step back of the Treaty of Amsterdam
For more than 40 years, all constitutional amendments have maintained the idea that a single uniform procedure for European elections was the main objective of any future efforts to modify the Electoral Act. Unfortunately, the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) revised those ambitions downward by creating the option of having elections held “in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States or in accordance with principles common to all Member States” (now Article 223(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)).
The same treaty encouraged the Council, a few years later, to amend the Electoral Act of 1976. In its original Article 7, the Act contemplated only – as the founding treaties – a uniform electoral procedure. In 2002, the Council cut short this option with a very laconic formulation, whereby “the electoral procedure shall be governed in each Member State by its national provisions”.
2. The institutional procedure: the blocking of the European Council
The Treaty of Maastricht (1992), the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, contained a second paragraph regarding the procedure to be specifically followed to amend the 1976 Act, and which has been later defined as a “special legislative procedure” by the Treaty of Lisbon (2007). In what is now Article 223(2) of TFEU, the Parliament has the exclusive right to initiate the procedure reforming the Electoral Act, but its proposal shall be unanimously approved by the Council and ultimately ratified by each Member State as per its own constitutional requirements.
In 2011, former Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff (ALDE, UK), then-Chair of the EP’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), prepared a project of reform which unfortunately failed to reach the plenary assembly. Instead, the European Parliament opted in 2013 for mere recommendations to the Member States. A second proposal, backed by Danuta Hübner (EPP, Poland) and Jo Leinen (S&D, Germany), has finally been voted in plenary by the Parliament on 11 November 2015. Since then, the project has been blocked by the European Council which argued, not directly on the point of transnational lists but rather on the official recognition of Spitzenkandidaten, that its prerogatives were being diminished by the proposal.
3. A perfect alignment of the stars – but citizen support might be the ultimate element to tip the scales
The European Parliament, in its latest resolution on Brexit dated 5 April 2017, has reiterated its willingness to move forward on the reform of the Electoral Act, implicitly making the connection between the transnational list initiative and the UK seats which will become vacant.
Macron, since the start of its French presidential campaign, made clear that transnational lists were one of the priorities of En Marche’s European policy and that the 73 UK seats shall be used to support the initiative. Now elected, Mr. Macron is de facto a member of the European Council, which raises the hopes that the Council’s position will finally move forward on the topic – probably at the cost of concessions to be made to some other provisions of the European Parliament’s proposal.
In a world where citizens are more willing to take the power back into their own hands, online petitions are a powerful tool to bring legitimacy and weight to overcome institutional lethargy. And we, as ALDE’s Individual Members, have a duty to raise public awareness on the ongoing debates, support our ALDE Group in Parliament, and ask our recently elected Delegates to testify about our unconditional commitment at the next Party’s Congress and Council meetings.
As Andrew Duff wrote in a recent article for the European Policy Center, “the time for such a radical reform is now. The introduction of European lists would at a stroke Europeanise the European elections and re-invent the Parliament”. Let’s make sure that ALDE is pushing as hard as possible to transform the Brexit debacle into a victory for European democracy. The countdown has already begun.