A radical overhaul of European Parliament elections was proposed last week by the MEP Andrew Duff, the Parliament’s rapporteur on electoral reform.
The Duff report recommends the creation of “semi-open” transnational lists, where voters choose between candidates on party lists, not simply candidates of different parties. “Semi-open” lists already exist in the electoral systems of Belgium and Finland, for example.
In effect, this would mean that any given candidate in any country could be elected by all European voters.
Duff acknowledged that the proposal was “quite federalist” and would be “controversial”. But he argued that “in the context of quite a profound democratic crisis, we badly need such bold proposals to connect the citizen to the post-national parliamentary democracy we are trying to construct here”.
As well as creating transnational elections, the Duff report would set the minimum voter age at 16 and the minimum candidate age at 18. It would also strengthen the Parliament’s powers in assessing the eligibility and credentials of candidates.
“At present, we are obliged to accept member-state decisions on the candidates eligible for European elections,” said Duff, “but the Parliament is of sufficient authority and experience that it should have its own autonomy to decide who should and shouldn’t be here”.
Duff accepted that in order to be adopted, the system would require unanimity in the European Council as well as treaty changes. Member states have previously blocked similar initiatives, and it remains to be seen what sort of reception the Duff report will receive in European capitals.
Meanwhile, the report received a mixed reception from Professor Cees Van der Eijk, an expert on European Electoral Research. Van der Eijk praised the boldness of the reforms, but was less enthusiastic about Duff’s idea of making the elections more “candidate-based”, saying that such systems tended to become “beauty contests” where voters are less knowledgeable about relevant policy issues.
Duff hopes the report will be approved by the Parliament before the 2009 elections, drawing the Council’s attention during the Swedish EU Presidency from July next year. He hopes to have the new system in place for the 2014 elections.