EU representatives and voters without borders

EURACTIV - Alberto Alemanno, Giorgio Clarotti, Olivier Costa and Christophe Leclercq - 21/09/20

Almost 30 years after the first transnational European party was formed, the European Parliament has proposed that in the 2024 European elections, all voters should be able to vote, in addition to their national representatives, for a second set of representatives, elected in a single European college.

EU representatives and voters without borders
There is an urgent need to fully recognise the democratic rights of all European citizens, write Alberto Alemanno, Giorgio Clarotti, Olivier Costa and Christophe Leclercq.
[Martin Divisek/EPA/EFE]

A European Citizens’ Initiative proposes that the EU’s 17 million mobile citizens living in a different EU country should be able to vote in national elections where they live. There is an urgent need to fully recognise the democratic rights of all European citizens,

The European Union still isn’t a political union. Confined in their respective States, its citizens are called upon to choose their representatives in the European Parliament in national or regional electoral colleges, not at European level.

In the absence of genuine European parties, candidates largely campaign on national issues. The European political area thus makes no sense for most citizens.

Lately, though, there has been progress.

In the European elections of 2014 and 2019, European issues have taken a more prominent place in the campaigns, particularly in the debates between the heads of the lists of the main European parties running for the presidency of the European Commission (the so-called Spitzenkandidaten).

For the first time, a candidate from a genuinely European party – Volt – with the same programme across the EU, was elected. However, contrary to 2014, the promise to link the outcome of the elections and the choice of the President of the Commission was not kept in 2019 by the Heads of State and Government.

This is one of the reasons why Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the Commission, has called for a Conference on the future of the Union (the #CoFoE). It will, among other things, have to clarify this issue.

A European Electoral College for the European elections from 2024 onwards?

Brexit offered the opportunity to replace the British MEPs with a small number of MEPs elected at pan-European level, but the European Parliament’s proposal was not supported by the Council.

Similarly, its proposals, albeit relatively modest, to strengthen the specifically European character of the ballot could not be implemented for the 2019 elections. Time is running out again, and a jump-start is needed now for the 2024 elections.

Taking up an idea of the European Parliament dating back to 2000, the #1Head2Votes campaign proposed to allow every European to vote twice: for a candidate at national or regional level and also for a genuine European candidate at Union level.

This double voting system, similar to what happens in German national elections, would make it possible to run truly European campaigns and encourage the creation of truly European political parties.

In 2019, such a proposal was adopted by the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), after a close vote in which the cross-party ‘Spinelli’ Group of Euro-federalist MEPs played an important role.

However, it did not pass the vote in plenary, as the EPP (European People’s Party) Group rejected it on the grounds of the risk of a possible victory for a Eurosceptic coalition. In truth, their position was also a matter of strategic calculations and political score-settling.

This is why electoral laws should not be changed so close to the elections and should be tackled now with a view to 2024.

This January, the AFCO committee started discussing a resolution on the 2024 elections. The report by Pascal Durand of the Renew group picks up the #1Head2Votes proposal and features additional dreams of 30 years of electoral federalism – which we broadly share:

– Some European candidates would be elected within a single pan-European electoral college. This limited number of MEPs will be headed by a #Spitzenkandidat for the Presidency of the European Commission;

– #TransnationalLists: all genuine European parties and groups will be required to submit a pan-European list for the European Electoral College, thus forming pan-European electoral platforms and programmes;

– The elections will be open to fully-fledged European parties, such as Volt.

However, as in 2019, some amendments tabled by the EPP reject any reference to transnational lists, kicking the can down to the #CoFoE, which is due to be launched shortly.

We disagree: the initiative on EU electoral law is a rare and fundamental competence of the European Parliament. It should not wait for the results of a conference that will only deliver its conclusions in two years at best.

Other amendments, notably from the left and Volt (which joined the Green group), call instead for the institutionalisation of truly European parties.

Vote where you live, without borders

For 17 million Europeans living in a member state other than their own, voting is a matter of choice. For European elections, they have to choose between voting in the country where they live or in their country of origin. Leaving also means giving up the right to vote for the party that will tax their original home or their place of residence.

While the EU guarantees them the right to vote in local elections, they cannot vote in regional and national elections in their host country. Some must also give it up in their country of origin, thus becoming politically homeless.

The #VotersWithoutBorders European Citizens’ Initiative launched on 1 September posits that Europeans no longer have to choose between their mobility and their civic rights. This issue will certainly be on the agenda of the #CoFoE.

This campaign and initiatives are different. #1Head2Votes wants the European Parliament to uphold its constitutional right of initiative, #VotersWithoutBorders is a constituent initiative carried by civil society.

They should not be confused, nor compete with each other. We ask the MEPs to use their rights to legislate as soon as possible on the European electoral law and to strongly support our Citizens initiative, with a view to crafting in the future a full European electoral law.

If, in a year from now, the European citizens’ initiative collects the required one million signatures, electoral Europe will have a chance to gain substance.

Alberto Alemanno is a professor of European Law, HEC Paris and founder of The Good Lobby; Giorgio Clarotti is the co-founder of Alliance4Europe, and member of the Federal Committee of the Union of European Federalists (UEF); Olivier Costa is the director of research at the CNRS and director of European political and governance studies at the College of Europe; Christophe Leclercq is the founder of the EURACTIV Media Network and the EURACTIV Foundation (think-and-do-tank on the health of the media sector, initiator of the innovative @stars4media training programme).