To vote or not to vote – that’s the question…
By Åsa Gunven
…at least if you look at the disastrous low turnout predictions for the European Parliament elections. Lets look at the elections more bluntly and determine if to vote or not to vote by asking ourselves 3 metaphysical questions: Question 1: Is there a European Parliament?
The EP has gained power in every treaty change, and today it co-decides on almost all legislation and it indirectly decides on around 70% of the legislation that is decided on the national level. Last term it has produced over 1200 laws including consumer protection, lower roaming rates, chemical safety, carbon reduction measures, the service directive and also taken important stands such as endorsing the Charter of Human rights when the Council failed to do so. Yes – there is an European Parliament worthy its name and it definitely has important powers that can be exercised by its voters, but its legitimacy is severely weekend by the low voting turnout.
Question 2: Is there a European election campaign?
A friend of mine said that she has to vote blank as the debates only focus on national politics and she does not have a clue about what the different parties want for Europe or will actually do in the European Parliament if elected. Everywhere we see the same problem - national parties fighting European elections with over national politics. For accountability and transparency media and political parties need to secure a proper debate on the European policy choices ahead.
The European Parties manifesto that they have produced for the first time (Greens for a second time) remain largely lowest common denominator politics and it is a fact that it is national parties that run a national competition mainly on national issues. Who even knows about the European Parties and the groups in the Parliament? Or the fact that my vote for a national party will support parties from other countries that belong to the same political group even if they politically actually stand light years away from me? This is confusing, in-transparent and a big problem for accountability.
A way to overcome this national bias of the election is to establish transnational party lists that would allow me as a voter to choose between candidates from different countries. This would focus the debate on European political choices and increase the debate taking place across the borders of Europe – away from the national politics! It would also increase the electoral choice as it would allow me to pick candidates from another country where often members of the same party family stand for really different political choices. The European Parliament is currently discussing an electoral reform for 2014, where one suggestion is the inclusion of a trans-national constituency with transnational lists for a small proportions of the seats in the parliament. This is a good, even if slightly slow, start and it is important for Europe’s democratic development that this reform goes through.
Question 3: Is there a European Parliament election?
What are we actually electing when voting for the European Parliament? A candidate, a party, a European Parliament… but one thing is clearly missing compared to national parliamentary elections; the election and holding into account of the executive.
No matter what I vote, and no matter what is the new majority of the European Parliament, conservative Barroso will head the new Commission that is appointed right after the elections in June. Even if it is the Council that nominated the Commission president, it is the newly elected Parliament and its majority that has the power to reject or accept him/her – and so the voters trough the parties could actually elect their own Commission president (even before the Lisbon treaty)
The failure of the European Parties, and particularly of the Party of European Socialists that are the only one that could realistically have challenged Barrosos, is a failure for European democracy. Next elections hopefully the European Parties will see the advantage of putting a face to their campaigns and at the same time increase the motivation of Europe’s citizens to go and vote by giving them the power to elect (and reject!) their political leadership.
To vote or not to vote – that is the question. Let’s vote, but let’s vote for someone that is prepared to lead the way for important federal reforms that can make the Parliament, the Campaigning and the Election worthy their names for next time around. Only then we will get the voting turnout the European Parliament deserves.