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European elections? Why European ? What's European about them?
by Newropeans-Magazine
2009-01-04 10:58:09
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From June 4th to June 7th, the European voters of are called upon to elect the European Parliament in the 2009 European elections. Is that really so? Is there anything like „European elections“?

No. The elections to the European Parliament are all but European elections. What is taking place are in reality 27 national elections, in which 27 times national voters elect their 27 national groups of representatives to the European parliament. Elections to the EP are nothing but  27 national and independent elections, being conducted around the same week-end. Accordingly there are also 27 different but relevant national electoral laws. The European law sets only an absolute minimum of common rules. It e.g. determines the total number of delegates in the European parliament, their distribution on the 27 member states, allows citizens of European member states residing in another member state to run as candidate and to vote. For all the rest, there is only the blue sky of national constitutions as limit for the national legislator to regulate, to influence and even to hinder the process of the election to the European Parliament. The European Directive on the election of the European Parliament  is so unambitious in its aspiration to create a genuine European procedure for the election of the European Parliament, that the European Commission does not even esteem necessary to hold a collection or even an overview of the 27 national electoral laws. Apparently, it does not even consider it necessary to gather information about possibly existing common principles for parliamentarian elections in all member states with a view to streamline those in one of their so typical harmonization procedures in the interest of electing a European Parliament representing European political will . Harmonization policy, so consistently implemented in the economic sector, without any consideration for national characteristics or needs, in order to achieve free and as unregulated as possible competition, seems to be irrelevant when it comes to the constitution of an organ of the European Union. Civil law, corporate law, penal law, bank law… the member states must adapt them to European standards. When it comes to the election of the European Parliament… everything is fine, acceptable, one national procedure is as good as any other.

The electoral laws in the different member states are accordingly extremely varied. In some states only national parties, in others also simple voters lists, or again in others also parties from other member states are admitted to participate in the election. In some member states, there are many constituencies, in others only one. In some states, it requires 160,000 supporters’ signatures for bringing a new party on the electoral ballot, in others none. In some countries these signatures must be confirmed by the electoral authority in a written procedure, in others the signing must be done before the electoral authority or in presence of a solicitor, in others  any signature without validation is accepted. In some countries the participating parties or voters’ list must pay a security deposit, whose sum can go from small go to substantial. In one country (France) the official hurdles are very low, however the parties must pay the printing costs of their ballots, which amounts  to, the number of voters being 47 million, over a million euros. 

To put it bluntly : In some cases,the basic purpose of national electoral laws is to limit competition in politics. New parties are to be kept outside the political arena. If we consider the case of Italy : Five electoral districts, in each of which  35,000 signatures must be collected, just for the privilege of being put on the official ballot. And each signature must be authenticated by a notary,the new party carrying the authentication fees. The simple aspiration to participate in an election is therefore extremely time and money consuming.

The time available for the collection of the signatures is, again, different  from member state to member state, but, for once a rather common principle, relatively short. Only after designation of the candidates in the party instances, which is possible at the earliest six to eight months before the election date, the new party can start the campaign for collecting signatures.  The signatures must be gathered from one to two months before the election.

Compared to Italy or also Denmark, where 70,000 voices are necessary, the situation is almost too good to be true in Germany:  Either 2000 signatures per regional list (16) or 4000 signatures for the federal list. Any party not being able to gather that amount of supporters‘ signatures would anyway have no reason to nurture any hope of achieving a 5% election minimum election result in order to send candidates to the EP.

What is not foreseen and even forbidden according to the national electoral laws is … a European party. Isn’t that strange ? The object of the election is the constitution of an European Union institution …  and only national parties are allowed to nominate  candidates ? Which means, parties, which in their member structure, program, objectives, awareness and consciousness  are national, which lack understanding of European politics ; whose members in general have very little European background. Why should a national party, for instance, stand up for a Common European international policy, by nature and definition restricting national sovereignty in foreign affairs, if the national minister for foreign affairs, thus losing influence and clout, were member of that party? Why should a national party stand up for the emergence of European parties, thus creating future competition in up-coming European elections ?

Maybe this explains the low quality policy output of the EP. It is not the fault of the acting persons, even if national parties use the EP gladly to dispose of politicians that have failed on national level[1]. The problem is structural. Let’s take an informed guess on the number of different parties represented in the EP: From Germany six. From France (probably )six. From Great Britain (probably)  four. If we calculate on the basis of four parties per member state, we get a result of 108 parties represented in the EP. The fact that these 108 parties regroup in parliamentary groups within the EP does not resolve the dilemma. Because their political platform, even for European politics, is national ; it was written and voted on nationally. Candidates from 108 different parties were sent to the EP with 108 different programs. With 8 parliamentary groups, each of them is composed of 13 parties (on average). Can it really be a surprise that the smallest common denominator is indeed tiny, thus impeding any relevant political initiatives from within the EP?

Democracy in Europe will only be feasible if the European parliament is elected by all European voters in a single trans-European election, acquiring a trans-European legitimacy and in consequence becoming possibly the source of a truly European political will, which will be all but just the smallest common denominator of the programs of more than one hundred national parties. Then and only then will the elections of the European Parliament have become genuine European elections. The present system is a pure labelling fraud, masking the sad truth of national parties’ monopoly of the European political system.  

Harald Greib* 
St Jean de Fos - Frankreich


*Harald Greib is Vice-President of Newropeans and the author of "Berlin mit Bitte um Weisung" a European story published by MDV 2006.

[1] Most recent cases in Germany: Friedbert Pflüger, failed in Berlin; Monika Hohlmeier, failed and abhorred in Bavaria. Europeans can expect to see them back on track and well paid in Brussels and Strasbourg starting June 2009.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-01-04 11:36:47
I am puzzled. It is hard to understand how can a European from Greece go to parliament to represent Europeans living in Spain. Wouldn't a Spaniard know and represent the needs of his people better than a Greek who has never lived in Spain?

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