This paper suggests two innovations ahead of the 2014 European elections: first, the possibility, for a European party, to present an autonomous list, i.e., not indirectly via a national political party; and, second, a more open and democratic designation of the parties’ candidates for President of the next European Commission.
These ideas developed can be implemented by any European party, but I dedicate them in particularly to the EPP (European People’s Party) because of its specific situation in the UK.
I/ European parties’ lists
Although officially European parties are the ones campaigning for EP elections, it is national parties which select candidates for the European elections. It is only after being elected that the new MEPs select which parliamentary group they want to join. Usually, it is very predictable, because most national parties are affiliated to a European party, but, occasionally, there can be some last-minute changes, e.g., the Italian MEPs from the Partito Democratico (PD) moved from the ALDE to the S&D in 2009 (causing the name of the socialist group to become very long). This situation is problematic mostly because it “nationalises” the European elections: first, national parties can control the topics discussed during the electoral campaign and usually use their space in the media to discuss national politics, and, second, this increases the risk that national parties fill up the candidate lists with politicians who have lost other elections or important positions and need some ‘political recycling’ regardless of their interest in European politics and policies.
Several ideas to favour a more European debate have already been raised, e.g., the election of some MEPs on the basis of transnational lists. But this latter proposal by Andrew Duff was not adopted and is maybe a bit too ambitious for now. An intermediary step would be to require that candidate lists are set by European parties and that the European parties’ logos fully replace the national parties’ ones on campaign material.
I now direct this section in particular to my friends from the EPP: we have no member party in the UK since the Conservative Party left us in 2009, listening to its most Eurosceptic elements. The British citizens will elect 73 MEPs (nearly 10%) and we would have none within the EPP group. So, what about presenting candidates on EPP lists in the UK? This would be an interesting experience that could pave the way for a generalisation of the idea across the EU. Furthermore, I am relatively sure that we could grab a few seats. Moreover, it would show that there is a moderate and conservative pro-European wing in the UK, which is currently not properly represented. The issues to solve are, of course: do we have the financial means for it? Can we quickly obtain the legal personality in the UK (if we do not have it yet, which, I guess, is the case)? And can we find candidates within a short time period? Of course, a quick adoption of the proposal on European political parties and European political foundations would facilitate things: it needs to remove the issue of obtaining the legal personality in each Member State and it needs to facilitate the private funding of European parties.
II/ The designation process of the candidate for President of the European Commission
My second proposal for innovation regards the process to select the candidate for President of the EC. The European parties have agreed to designate a candidate before the next elections in May 2014, in an attempt to mobilise more citizens by giving a face to their respective campaigns. But, at present, the modalities to choose this candidate are not clearly defined.
A first idea, which would also be the most democratic and transparent one, would be to organise European-wide primaries. This would favour the opening of the media to European politics and to a debate about European policies. Moreover, citizens would feel more involved and would probably participate more in the elections. Of course, there are also significant obstacles: the costs of such primaries, the short time left to organise them and the language issues – would the debates between candidates take place only in English or in the three main working languages of the EU (English, German and French)?
So, an alternative solution could be to have the candidate for President of the European Commission elected by the MEPs (50% of the vote) and representatives of the national member parties (50% of the vote). This solution would enable to involve national representatives already at the selection stage, which could facilitate the ulterior decision by the European Council. And the voters would be represented by their MEPs.
Mobilising citizens for the 2014 European elections is vital. In the context of a growing gap between citizens and politics (not only European politics!), it is necessary to look for innovative ideas. This short paper hopes to make a small contribution to this endeavour.