On March 14th the European Parliament will vote on a proposal to allow transnational lists in the European elections. At present the European citizens can only vote on national lists: EU citizens vote for candidates in the countries that they are resident in. The proposal calls for EU citizens to have a second vote: for a transnational list of 25 MEPs elected across the Union. The transnational lists would be composed of candidates from at least one third of member states, to ensure that the list is genuinely transnational.
It is increasingly clear to many people in Europe that the crucial decisions about our future are being taken at a European level, and at the same time the European level of decision-making seems to many ever more remote, unresponsive and unconcerned with the views and welfare of citizens of Europe. The moment is opportune, as well as urgent, therefore, to make a decisive change in the way in which we are represented at a European level.
For the moment, national political parties have total dominion over the electoral process for the European elections: they select the candidates, they run the campaigns, and they finance the campaigns. It is unsurprising that the campaigns for the European elections thereby remain highly national affairs, and the candidates selected are selected largely on national issues.
The ongoing debt-crisis in the EU has shown more than ever the inextricable interrelations between the countries of Europe, and that resolving our common problems relies on seeing our common interests. Institutions build on national constituencies are proving largely incapable of giving citizens a say over these common interests, as they remain beholden to short-term national interests. As such the national institutions and national political parties are currently disenfranchising EU citizens. The election of transnational representatives would be an important step forwards in building democratic institutions which allow citizens to express their will at this common transnational level, to give to the citizens of Europe the democratic choice over their common future.
The resolution of the debt-crisis may be the most visible of the European political problems needing greater democratisation at the moment, but in reality there is almost no domain of political decision-making in Europe which does not have some transnational dimension: whether in economy, environmental policy, cross-border transport, communications, migration, welfare and the social model. At the moment decision making in these areas remains largely a process of consensus building amongst different national interests, whilst there is a much greater common interest of European citizens which is unrepresented in the process.
The parliament has the right to take initiative in reforming European elections, but it does not have the last say. If it adopts the resolution next week, it will need to call a European Convention to redraft the European treaties to make transnational lists possible. That would also be an occasion to call for further measures to democratise decision making in the EU.
It is by no means sure that the enough MEPs will support the resolution next week, under pressure from their national parties to keep EU-politics under their control. For that reason citizens from throughout the Union need to pressure their MEPs directly to promote the development of a more democratic system.