European Parliament agrees position on EU election law overhaul

The European Parliament has voted in favour of overhauling EU election law to include pan-European MEPs, putting the ball in the court of the Council. [EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

On Tuesday (3 May), the European Parliament adopted its position on a major reform of EU electoral law that would introduce bloc-wide transnational lists, following a compromise between the largest EU parties in March.

Now the motion has passed with a larger majority than expected, the ball is now in the court of the 27 member states in the Council.

The Parliament adopted a legislative initiative report that seeks to overhaul the rules for European elections. The draft legislative act was approved by 323 votes to 262.

“This reform will increase the visibility of European political parties and will enable them (and especially their candidates on the EU-wide lists) to campaign across the EU, so that we can create a real pan-European debate,” explained Domènec Ruiz Devesa, a Spanish progressive MEP.

“People will know they are voting for European political entities and lead candidates for Commission President,” he added.

The parliament’s proposal would mean that each voter would have two votes: one to elect MEPs in national constituencies, and one in an EU-wide constituency, composed of 28 additional seats. 

The reform to the EU electoral law is considered an important step, following the circumvention of the “Spitzenkandidat” system.

The Spitzenkandidat system was supposed to signal to EU citizens that the lead candidate of the winning party family would become European Commission president.

Germany in the crosshairs

Nonetheless, considering the size differences between different EU states, maintaining balance is a challenge, as 10% of the votes in Germany for a specific candidate could carry the same weight as 100% of votes from multiple smaller EU countries.

Thus, member states will be grouped into three groups depending on their population sizes. To ensure proportionality, candidates would be evenly divided. 

This retains the degressive proportionality used by the European Parliament today, with Malta receiving more votes in the parliament on a per capita basis than Germany.

Similarly, German votes will be subject to a 3.5% threshold. In order for German votes to be counted, more than 3.5% of voters must vote for a single candidate. Other EU countries will not be similarly restricted.

“I fought hard against this! It steals votes from up to 10% of German citizens (~5 million) and is anti-democratic!” said Damian Boeselager, the Greens’ negotiator on the deal, in March.

Keeping the compromise line

In all, the European Parliament’s position does not stray from the compromise reached in March, still featuring “zipped” lists, where female and male candidates alternate.

Europe Day on 9 May should be every EU citizen’s voting day, the parliament says, while any of the age of 18 should be able to stand for election.

The text also proposed postal voting for anyone, including those with disabilities, and the right for citizens to vote for the President of the European Commission, proposing a revival of the Spitzenkandidat system.

A new European Electoral Authority would be set up to oversee the process and ensure compliance with the new rules, the European Parliament explained in a press release.

Under pressure

With the European Parliament now united under a majority much larger than expected, and the big four European Parties having put their weight behind the matter, the dossier now passes to national ministers.

The parliament’s legislative initiative is now expected to be significantly amended by the Council, before the final version returns for approval or rejection by parliament and then is subject to national ratification.

“Parliament has sent a strong message to the Council that it is high time to change EU electoral law so that we can have elections that properly reflect today’s political realities,” said Devesa.

Biggest EU parties strike compromise to create pan-European MPs

The biggest EU party families have agreed on a compromise to push for a change of EU electoral law to allow for so-called pan-European members of the European Parliament, which could further European integration if successful.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Nathalie Weatherald]

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