It’s hardly news anymore when we hear about voter apathy and declining turnout for European elections. So how do we make people care about a ballot that is usually seen as little more than a halftime show between general elections?
One option is to make what’s at stake more important by, for example, not only electing MEPs but also the President of the European Commission.
It’s quite straightforward really.
If the main political parties agree to nominate candidates for the EU’s top job in advance of the elections, then those candidates can tour Europe, drumming up support in the Member States for their associated parties: a vote for CDU MEPs in Germany would be a vote for the centre-right candidate and a more market-friendly Commission for the next five years, while a vote for the UK’s Labour party would mean supporting a more social agenda for the EU executive.
Legally the mechanism exists: since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, it is the European Parliament who “elects” the Commission President.
As one former Secretary General of the Parliament pointed out, the only reason why the idea was not implemented for the 2009 elections is that the Socialists could not agree on who to put forward (the EPP had agreed to back Barroso for a second term).
Since you can’t have an election with only one candidate (in the EU at least), the notion fell by the wayside.
Others have an even more ambitious plan to “Europeanise” EP elections.
Later this month the plenary will vote on a report authored by Andrew Duff (ALDE, UK) proposing to introduce a single, 25-seat, EU-wide constituency. The European parties would present their lists of candidates, and all voters from Berlin to Bucharest would be able to vote for their preferred party.
The 25 seats would then be divided proportionately on the basis of one citizen, one vote. As these lists would be made up of candidates from across the EU, there could be no insular, parochial policy platforms.
What’s the point of changing the system you might ask?
While many of us in the Brussels bubble might be used to working on European solutions to the problems we face, for most people the primary, or even the only, point of reference is national.
If the current crisis has taught us anything, it is that national solutions are simply no longer enough. We need to find ways for European parties to reach across borders and help build a European consciousness.
If in 2014 voters are asked to choose between competing visions for the Commission, or vote for a “Europarty” instead of just our national parties, the ballot paper will for the first time be asking a truly European question.
However we are left with one tantalising question: will voters respond with European answers?