Anti-federalists loathe the idea of introducing a transnational list of 25 MEPs in the next European Parliament, because they fear one of them would gain the legitimacy to claim to become the next Commission President, MEP Andrew Duff told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
MEP Andrew Duff (ALDE; UK) is a former vice-president of the Liberal Democrats in the UK.
He is a member of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee and is the Parliament's rapporteur on a proposal to introduce transnational lists at the next European elections.
He was speaking to Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV's senior editor.
Felipe González, chairman of the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe, said on 4 October he would like the next European Commission president to be elected from a transnational list at the 2014 European elections. You are the MEP in charge of putting in place legislation for such a list. Do your views coincide with those of Mr. González?
I always suspected that [European Commission President José Manuel] Barroso's successor could come from the transnational list. He could not be at the top. But I think it would be a credible personalisation of the electoral campaign if this person were to first try to be elected in the European Parliament, instead of plucking some candidate, some champion, out of thin air.
Important people, such as ex-prime ministers, do not want to be defeated in an election campaign. But they might be prepared to be candidates for the Parliament. And indeed, there are a number of ex-prime ministers in the Parliament.
In your proposals you envisage a list of 25 transnational MEPs. Why 25?
For practical reasons. Because it all goes on one page. And it's sufficient to transform the electoral procedure and the campaign. And 25 MEPs can be fitted in these buildings. We will not have to add additional blocks to accommodate them.
So people go to vote and they will have the possibility to vote for their national MEP and for the transnational list, if they so wish…
Exactly, you are not obliged to cast your second vote, but you have the right of two votes, for your national MEP and for the transnational list.
Some claim that there would be less legitimacy for MEPs elected from the transnational list, because fewer people would vote for them…
Let's wait and see how people would vote, but there is for them an electorate of 400 million people. I think these candidates will get a lot of votes.
So we will have the same transnational list, which will not be a party list, but a list of candidates from different political groups, with the same 25 names in all the countries in the elections?
Don't you think that candidates from big countries will be at an advantage? Everyone knows Tony Blair or David Miliband. But few people know politicians from smaller countries…
Obviously, to be known is much better than to be unknown. But that's politics.
On the other hand, little known politicians from smaller countries could feel privileged to appear on a list alongside more well-known names. Is this a federalist idea? Do you see it in the context of federalism?
Yes, I do.
But maybe people who are anti-immigration and populists would also like to be on that list.
Of course. It would be up to the political parties to order the candidates. I am proposing that the voter can either support the block, or vote for an individual candidate.
Who will set up the list of 25 candidates?
The list will be set up by the European political parties that exist.
How would those 25 seats be allocated? The European People's Party group is the biggest group. Should it logically be allocated the largest number of candidates?
They would be allocated according to the formula we will agree on, whether it is Sainte-Laguë or the '’Hondt method.
Will there be a need for constitutional change in some countries to allow people to vote for nationals of other countries who do not live in their country? Do you anticipate legal conflicts?
No, there would be changes in the secondary law, not in the constitutions. And I don't anticipate legal conflicts.
What are the major obstacles that might prevent this list from seeing the light?
The obstacle is political. The anti-federalists fear it. The forces of conservatism are very powerful in Europe.
But 25 out of 751 MEPs don't make such a big difference.
It's on top of 751 MEPs. We supplement the existing 751 with 25 extra.
Did you choose the number 25 because this is less than the number of EU members, to convey the message that they are not national candidates?
Precisely, because in that case people would think that every state would have an extra MEP.
So you would not find it abnormal if three MEPs from those 25 were from a small country, say Luxembourg, just because their political groups were successful in pushing for their candidacies?
No. The philosophy is if they are popular, they get votes.
Do you plan to involve federalist formations such as the Spinelli Group in pushing for a transnational list?
Yes, by doing a lot of work in the Parliament. We need to have the Parliament on board for this reform.
When the establishment of the Spinelli Group was announced three weeks ago, it was announced that MEPs were invited to join. Do you have any figures?
No, I haven't looked, but the number is growing. We already have the federalist group that I chair, we have about 75 signatures to that, I think.
Should we expect to see the names of some of the MEPs active in the Spinelli Group on the transnational list?
Yes, of course. I think Guy Verhofstadt would be very pleased to be on the transnational list.
Maybe this is because his party, Open-VLD, is not very popular these days.
No, it's because his European credibility is very large.
Are you sure the whole project isn't about suiting someone's political project?
Of course not. It's something I've been working on for ten years.
Mr. Verhofstadt is not the only politician to be more popular in Europe than in his own country. I can think of former Commissioner Emma Bonino, for example…
Yes, she would be a very credible candidate.
But we could have competition between big names on the transnational list, if we assume that Barroso's successor should come out of it…
To tie the next Commission president election to the next European elections is a very important thing. There are many different ways of doing it, but I think this way is the very best way.
How about the timing? When do you expect to have the legal base in place?
I do hope we can get this into the plenary in December. And then it would need an IGC. That would take a number of months, but we have to get on with it.
The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) would be called to change the treaty – about the number of MEPs, I presume. But don't you fear obstructions, like the Irish calling another referendum?
No, I don't think Ireland will require a referendum. It will be done by Dáil, the national parliament.
So you hope to be on time for the 2014 election.
I hope so. That's the goal!
Would you be happy to be on the transnational list?
Are there any other exciting things to come?
I'm preparing to publish a pamphlet on this. And I agree: this is all very exciting.