Enhancing the European focus of European elections

Recognizing the challenges facing the approval and introduction of Transnational Electoral Lists this paper discusses and proposes an alternative, capturing their positive effects regarding the Europeanization of Elections to European Parliament while at the same time nearly completely avoiding their introductory hurdles.
This proposal is not a counterproposal to Transnational Electoral Lists. If at some later point the European political landscape is ready for their introduction the acceptance of this proposal now will facilitate that later step greatly.

European Parliament

Abstract:

The Elections for European Parliament lack focus on Europe. They are run nationally, by national politicians on national campaign platforms focusing on national issues. With our proposal, this could be changed easily.

Without being a counterproposal, this proposal contains an alternative approach to the widely known and advertised introduction of transnational electoral list. While the initial scope of Transnational Electoral List proposal only influences up to 10% of seats of the European parliament, this proposal is expected to impact the campaign for every single EP seat and therefore at least have a comparable enhancing effect on the elections as well as the European body politics. At the same time, it can be expected to face a significantly lower extent of formal and legal introductory hurdles.

The expected positive impact of Transnational Electoral Lists on European elections rests on two columns:

  • Column 1 being the actual transnational list of European candidates eligible from citizens in every member state.
  • Column 2 is much less advertised. It is the obvious fact that a European transnational list will need to have a common campaign platform, focusing primarily on issues of European relevance considered to be acceptable as well as necessary by all candidates on the list whichever member state they hail from.

The enhancing effect on elections to European Parliament is primarily the result of column 2: A common European political Platform associated with all candidates on the list, making it possible to put forward a Lead Candidate (Spitzenkandidat) without forcing this person to put his/her name on 27 different partially conflicting national programs. Column 1, even though desirable, brings with it a multiplicity of obstacles: Issues with composition of parliament, sequence of national candidates on list, regional representation, legal changes up to required constitutional changes in some member countries. It is column 1 that is in the way of getting Transnational Electoral Lists approved.

This perspective is backed up by a reflection on the system for federal elections in Germany. German political parties do not have national election lists. Each state has its own list of candidates. But they all campaign on a common national platform and jointly present a Lead Candidate for chancellor.

Building preeminently on the positive effects Column 2 this proposal avoids almost all the obstacles to introduction associated with Column 1. Instead, this proposal brings European focus to campaigns for European Parliament, it fosters a European public sphere, it supports the Lead Candidate Concept, it strengthens Parliament and by reducing the frequently confusing complexity of political maneuvering in Parliament it brings European Political Parties, European Parliament and its political groups closer to the European citizen.

Lastly this proposal suggests leverage for its implementation: Making the establishment of a Political Group in the European Parliament contingent on having run a campaign on a common platform. This condition can be implemented by simple change of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament (change of Rule 33).

Status Quo

Aspect 1. The problem we want to address: It is our perception that Elections for European Parliament lack focus on Europe and issues of European importance. They are run nationally, by national politicians on national campaign platforms focusing on national issues. In the not so rare worst case, parties in member states focus their election campaign on which benefits can be extracted from the European project for the respective home nation.

Aspect 2. The project to introduce transnational electoral lists to address this problem has been under discussion since the 1990s. While it currently again it is being brought forward in the EP, there is no expectation that, even if successfully introduced, it will affect even close to 10% of the parliamentary seats.

Aspect 3. According to Rule 33 of the Rules of Procedure of the EP parties can apply to form a EPPG. Their affinity, the lone precondition for forming an EPPG, is assumed with application for the status and proof does not have to be given.

Aspect 4. Joining forces to form a EPPG brings benefits as to financial support, speaking time, committee seats.

The proposal – Introduction of Transnational Campaign Platforms as a requirement to form a EP Political Group (EPPG)

I. The central thought of the proposal

Only give EPPG status to parties that have a common transnational European campaign platform and have built their campaign to EP on it. Use a change of Rule 33 of RPEP to require this condition as proof of affinity for granting the EPPG status.

This proposal does not affect national election law, the national electoral process, the way national lists are established etc. It only establishes a requirement to obtain EPPG status.

II. Condition to be met to qualify for EPPG status and verification

While currently Rule 33 of the Rules of the EP assumes the affinity of parties applying for EPPG status the proposal requires parties to prove their affinity. Proof must be brought in 2 ways:

1. The parties willing to enter the EPPG status, and thus partake in its benefits, need to have a common campaign platform specific for that election cycle.

A. Common statements of value (like the EPP manifesto 2019) are desirable but do not count as a campaign platform. A campaign platform needs to be more specific

B. The common campaign platform needs to be approved by democratic process by the membership of each applying member party

2. The parties willing to enter the EPPG status must (i) publish the common campaign platform and (ii) run their campaign based on it!

A. The second part of this condition (ii) is hard to validate. Did they? Did they not?

B. The assumption is, that if a party has participated in the composition of the common platform, has approved the common European platform by democratic process, the projects and ideas of the platform have been rooted firmly in the membership

C. This proposal remains vulnerable to personalities like Viktor Orbán, who are willing sign the common campaign platform, sign the EU treaties and still act in brash violation.

3. The EP has to establish a committee to exert judgement on applications for joined EPPG membership. This requires a change to Rule 33 of the Rules of Procedure of EP, which currently assumes affinity if so declared.

Benefits, shortcomings, considerations

I. Effect of proposal on Lead Candidate Concept (Spitzenkandidat)

The Lead Candidate Concept (LCC) has been advertised quite intensively in Germany and by German politicians. In other countries the LCC was by far less visible or accepted by the general population. One of the shortcomings of the LCC was the lack of a common European campaign platform, applicably alike to all member countries, for the LC to campaign on and be associated with. Instead, the LC had to put his/her face on a different, sometimes conflicting, political program in each member country.

The proposed transnational campaign platform (TCPP) would do away with this shortcoming of the current approach. The alternative approach with Transnational Lists (TL) does not remedy the shortcoming of the current approach regarding the LCC.

II. First Effect to Europeanize the campaign

Working on the assumption, that it is desirable for parties to attain the status of EPPG that would require most of them to band together not only to apply for EPPG status, but in order to qualify they would have to agree on a common European campaign platform.

Entering this process with the intention of finding common ground it is fair to assume that issues of overlapping interest, i.e., issues of European interest, will move center stage:

  • Which project can we take on that benefits all, or at least a wide majority of us?
  • Which change to the treaties is in the interest of all, or at least a wide majority of us?
  • What can we do jointly to confront the next big challenge (Climate, Pandemic, migration etc.)?

The litmus test for the participating politician will be: Will I be able to sell this to my home country electorate? Will my colleague from country X be able to do the same thing? What can I give?

That would not leave a lot of room for forcing in goodies for nationalistic reasons. At least it would force compromise: The parties from Mediterranean countries would not want to enter such a platform with parties from the north or east that flat out reject any responsibility for incoming refugees.

III. Second Effect to Europeanize the campaign

Since at least currently it is desirable for parties to join forces in the EP and form a EPPG, the TCPP can be expected to affect the whole campaign, i.e. the campaign for 100% of the seats, whereas the TLP only effects the number of seats set aside for TL. Currently the number discussed is between 15 and 73 of 700+, less than 10%.

IV. Effect to Europeanize political discussions within national parties

Discussions on national party campaign platforms traditionally are no shallow processes. They are serious attempts to match underlying party beliefs with perceived voter expectations. And different party subgroups engage in serious battles to establish their beliefs as the official party position. Examples in Germany would be demands for property taxes, infrastructure projects and the like.

The proposal interjects into this process the European component: National issues would lose significance. Instead, the parties intending to form an EPPG need to identify issues of relevance for all or most of them to compose a common platform. Questions of the following type will determine what constitutes a European Campaign platform: Introduction of a common tax on stock trades, how to deal with refugees, development of the treaties, energy-supply, corporate minimum tax, coping with international crime etc.

This would lead to the debate on issues of European relevance entering national party discussions with representatives of congenial parties from other member states at the table. In this way European issues would be discussed nationally under European perspectives as opposed to merely national perspectives.

V. Effect on European Public sphere

The effect described under point IV. will at the same time contribute to the development of a European public sphere, where media report on the process of creating common European campaign platforms. This would be a more than welcome, urgently needed step towards the existence of a broader European citizenry.

VI. Effect on EuPoPas and the party landscape in member states

If the proposal were accepted EuPoPas would have to reapply for EPPG status for all their member parties. That could provide them with a welcome opportunity to shed toxic member parties and at the same time encourage alternative, possibly new parties to orient their party platform towards existing EuPoPas and thus become member of an EPPG. As an example, I would like to cite the current S&D membership of ESB, the thoroughly corrupt successor party to the former Bulgarian communist party with Eurosceptic positions. An open Bulgarian spot could easily be occupied by one of the newcomers in the Bulgarian party landscape.

VII. Effect to Europeanize parliamentary work

Being voted into Parliament on platforms of this nature topics of top interest to the European electorate make it on the itinerary of Parliament, because citizens gave their consent and desire, their request to address them.

VIII. Effect on improving EuPoPa and EPPG credibility

Currently EuPoPas and specifically EPPGs are not political groups joined together for pursuing common political goals. What holds them together is the desire to represent a larger bloc and improve access to funds, speaking time and committee seats. That goes to the effect that in some EuPoPas and EPPGs even strong contradictions on politics, values are acceptable. From a citizen’s point of view, this fundamentally undermines the credibility of these EuPoPas and EPPGs and in this way the credibility of the EP. The proposal would do away with that.

IX. Effect to strengthen Parliament

A new European Parliament elected under the terms of this proposal would see EPPGs authorized by the European citizenry to pursue European policies as laid out in their respective common Europe focused Campaign Platform. This will strengthen the EP relative to the European Council, whose members attain membership not via a European but via a national mandate instead.

X. Formal approval of this proposal

Formal approval only requires a change of Rule 33 of the RPEP which requires a simple EP majority.

(Approval requirements of the TLP are far more extensive, up to constitutional changes in member countries [ex. because citizens elect non-citizens to represent them])

XI. Impact on number of MEPs in EP per member country

There is no impact. The number of MEPs per country stay the same.

XII. Impact on Electoral Process, Electoral laws in member countries

None. The electoral process of the member countries can remain untouched.

XIII. Impact on Campaign financing of EuPoPas or national political parties

None. The laws and regulations on campaign financing in different member states are not affected and can stay the same.

XIV. No need to wait

Any EuPoPa or any other group of parties willing to cooperate in their parliamentary work can start this process right now. They can jump ahead of a change in Rule 33 and get started on that Joint European Transnational Campaign Platform. As pointed out in subpoint point 5. the party Volt does exactly that. Equally it does not stretch the imagination to see the European Greens working that path right now. Political formations with less overlap like Mr. Janza in EPP or Mr. Babis in Alde might have to deal with the issue of EPPG coherence first.

5. Analogies in the existing political landscape

I. Volt

From the Volt homepage: „We make politics for a federal Europe across European borders. “

In 2019 Volt competed for the first time for the 2019 European Elections and led a cross-border election campaign with a European election program.

The underlined sentence captures the spirit of this proposal. While Volt had to register as separate parties in all European member states where they are present, they ran their campaign on a single, common platform.

II. Germany

The German political election landscape in some respects is quite comparable to the European situation, just one level down. There are national parties (CDU, SPD…) with party organizations in each state. State elections are run on state issues with state campaign platforms. The federal election is run by state parties, but on a joint national platform and coordinated by the national party. Even in federal elections parties have only state election lists, which serves to ensure regional representation in the Bundestag.

The case of the CSU in Bavaria is exemplary for the negative effect of an independent state party running on its own, with some equivalence we see on EU level with national parties, not hesitating to run on “We first”. That was a CSU slogan in the last EU elections: “Bayern zuerst”.
National party lists, which in this analogy correspond to transnational electoral lists on the European level, do not exist. Even the lead candidate concept has a like counterpart in Germany: The parties nominate a candidate for the office of chancellor, who in turn is only on the ballot at the top of his/her state electoral list.

6. Sizing up the proposed concept against TEL (Transnational Electoral Lists)

This comparison measures the proposed concept against the pros and cons of the concept of transnational electoral lists as documented thoroughly in the ERPS report on “Transnational Electoral Lists”, authored by Maria Diaz Crego.

  1. Pros
  • ERPS report: TELs enhance the European dimension of European elections by giving the electors the opportunity to vote for European (and not only national) candidates in a truly European contest
    The proposal would enhance the European dimension by offering the opportunity to vote on truly all-European platform offerings. That does not include the possibility to vote for European (and not only national) candidates
  • EPRS report: TELs provide clear guidance on the preferences of EU citizens on EU policies
    The proposal makes an equivalent offering, yet for the full EP, not only for a limited number of seats (15–73)
  • EPRS report: TELs strengthen European political parties
    The proposal makes an equivalent offering, yet for the full EP, not only for a limited number of seats (15–73)
  • EPRS report: TELs facilitate truly European campaigns
    The proposal makes an equivalent offering, yet for the full EP, not only for a limited number of seats (15–73)
  • EPRS report: TELs give voters wider range of choices
    The proposals impact on the range of choices needs to be explored.
  • EPRS report: TELs enhance EU citizens’ awareness as to the political context in other Member States.
    The proposal makes an equivalent offering, yet for the full EP, not only for a limited number of seats (15–73)
  1. Concerns
  • EPRS report: They might create different level of legitimation among Members of Parliament
    The proposal does address this concern. This concern does not apply to the proposal.
  • EPRS report: They introduce Members without a real constituency
    The proposal does address this concern. This concern does not apply to the proposal.
  • EPRS report: By creating greater distance between Members and citizens, the might potentially benefit populist and nationalist parties’ arguments that rely on that disconnection
    The proposal does address this concern. This concern does not apply to the proposal.
  • EPRS report: They might favor candidates from larger Member States — with a bigger electorate
    The proposal does address this concern. This concern does not apply to the proposal.
  • EPRS report: Finally, more practical difficulties are linked to the way European political parties would nominate their candidates, or how they would create a Union-wide campaign across all Member States and in all the official languages of the EU
    The proposal addresses these concerns partially. The way parties would nominate their candidates is of no concern at all. The challenge of creating a union wide campaign program is at the core of the proposal.
  • EPRS report: The report thoroughly elaborates extensively the hurdles the TEL proposal has to take and what contributed to its not being accepted by now.
    The proposal:
    This point represents a significant advantage of the proposed solution compared to the TEL proposal: formal approval does not require anything but the change of Rule 33 of the RPEP according to Rule 237 of the RPEP with simple majority of the European Parliament.
  • Additional concern 1: Transnational lists face an electorate, which in large parts presumably is not ready now to put their mark to a list, on which their own national candidate is not among the top 10 or even in the top 1 or 2 spots. Only top motivated and pro-European voters may overcome this psychological hurdle. Actually, this may have an adverse effect on votes in spite of an overall agreement with the platform associated to that list.
    The proposal takes out this concern completely! The voter in the voting booth sees on his vote sheet his well-known national or even local candidate committed to a truly European platform and, in agreement will trust his candidate/party to deliver in his interest.

Possible problem points

  1. Argument: Currently the EPP has about 50 member parties. That is more than 1 per member country. The question will come up how these 2 or more parties in 1 member state, which want to be part of the same EPPG, can differentiate themselves in their national campaign if they must run on the same platform.

Counterargument: This is indeed the case. The question remains how much weight it carries.

  1. Argument: Withholding EPPG status advantage is not strong enough an encouragement to make parties agree on a joined program.
    Counterargument: As to MEP’s Daniel Freund’s comment that is not the case. Being part of an EPPG is a must to develop any degree of effectiveness in parliamentary work.
  2. Argument: EuPoPas do have already something like political program statements. So, what the proposal asking for does already exist. The EuPoPas might argue: Your proposal is exactly what we have already!
    Counterargument: The existing EuPoPa platforms are way too general to match the need for an actual campaign platform. Ex. The EuPoPa the Greens platform is just a few pages. The German Green party felt the need to develop a 100+ page campaign platform for the election.
    They are so general that even an Orbán, a Borrisov or a Janza can sign the EPP platform. So, there must be a problem.

What Orbán, Borrisov, Janza (Slovenia) is for EPP, Babis Czechia is for EuPoPa Alde and EPPG Renew Europe

  1. Argument: There is the argument that the lack of coherence within EuPoPas and EPPGs accompanied by the absence of the whip (Fraktionszwang) principle makes it easier to build one-issue coalitions in order to successfully move laws through parliament.
    Counterargument 1: More coherent and predictable behavior of EPPGs probably would have an even more positive effect for issues emanating from the campaign platforms.
    Counterargument 2: This seems to be an argument pro muddling-through as opposed to making the parliamentary process more transparent and predictable.
  2. Argument: Would it be of concern that via the proposal parties of the extreme left and right would be pushed to consolidate further?
    Counterargument: This effect is hard to predict. Currently for example the parties of the extreme right form the ID EPPG. If they were required to put a joined European program together this task might as well blow them apart.
  3. Argument: In effect this proposal makes it harder for parties to change EPPG affiliation between elections. This can be construed to be a violation of the freedom of the mandate.
    Counterargument: Currently EPPG affiliation is only in a very limited way an indication of a certain political program. So, for the remainder of a legislative session the member who would like to change affiliation can stick to the old affiliation, pursue its new political conviction, and not lose the EPPG benefits. So, there is no factual limit on the freedom of the mandate.
  4. Argument: Currently there is a strict separation between European Political parties and Political Groups in the European Parliament, where it is only permitted for EuPoPas to run a campaign for EP. This proposal suggests doing away with this separation.
    Counterargument: While as a statement of fact this argument is correct, there is no acceptable or pressing reason why this has to stay that way. Actually, we are not aware this situation is laid down in the form of a rule, a law, a written agreement anywhere. As a matter of fact, this current state appears to be a barrier between the vote of the citizen and the acting agents in EP.
  5. Argument: This proposal will make it harder for new parties to be formed, gain traction on the European level.
    Counterargument: This concern is not convincing. The process of forming new parties and thus giving a voice to new citizen expectations is not impacted by this proposal. What happens though is that new parties not associated with an existing EPPG winning a sufficient number of votes to gain a seat in EP do not have access to the benefits of membership in an EPPG. This would hamper the efficiency of their parliamentary work.
    This shortcoming could be addressed by allowing EPPGs to accept a limited number (for example under 5% of Number of MEPs in EPPG or less than 5 additional MEPs without proven affinity.
    But the EPPGs probably will be pickier in terms of whom to offer membership. As an example, look at the new party VOLT. There is nothing in this proposal that would have limited their advance in their national as well as European campaigns. And the suggested <5%<5 clause would have facilitated their membership in the Parliamentary Group Greens-EFA.

Who would oppose the change?

  1. Parties and politicians who have advanced their political cause at the expense of the union (but they could band together as well, jointly stating their goal of hurting the union. This would be no different from now)
  2. Parties and politicians who have based their appeal on national or even nationalistic thought, because they will hardly find partners in other member states with which to agree on a common platform
  3. Current EPPGs, which currently are not held together by political affinity but by tactical considerations
  4. Current EuPoPas, which currently are not held together by political affinity but by tactical considerations: EPP and Borisov, Gerb (Bulgaria) or Jansa, SDS (Slovenia), SD and Ninova, BSP (Bulgaria), Alde and Babis, Ano (Czechia)
  5. Parties in member states which compete on similar platforms for the same part of the electorate (referring to point 1)

What can be done to acquiesce the opponents?

  1. The opponents according to 8 c. and d. could see an advantage
  2. In the possibility of using the introduction of shed toxic membership parties during the reestablishment of new EPPGs
  3. In the possibility to grow, develop and nurture new or small existing parties to better match their own vision and mission. For these new or small existing parties, it could be a decisive advantage to lean on an existing European party family.
  4. Opponents according to 8 e. could see beneficial effects in cases, where there is an opposition, divided in several warring factions, and thus not able to unite against an overreaching party in power (Hungary, Poland). The European incentive to join forces and become member of a strong European party family might help to overcome petty infighting.

This proposal was written by MeetEU’s team. MeetEU is a pan-European discussion platform, not financially supported by any political party or institution. It is a project that is completely realized by volunteers.

More information on: https://meeteu.eu/

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