Tuesday, December 27, 2011
9:00 AM Illinois European Union Center 1 comment
by Dan Koev
In his recent talk at the University of Illinois, Maciej Pisarski, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Poland, provided an overview of the Polish vision of the European Union and its future. Among the several intriguing and innovative ideas for reforming and improving the EU proposed by the speaker, one in particular stood out for its potential benefit and ease of implementation. The EU has long been struggling with the challenge of fomenting a European demos, as national identities remain more important and influential than any shared European identity. One suggestion Mr. Pisarski offered for remedying this problem is electing some members of the European Parliament (EP) from pan-European party lists. I would like to go one step further and suggest that the EP should be constituted entirely of pan-European parties elected by EU citizens at-large.
The current system under which the EP operates is flawed on several levels. First of all, MEPs are elected on national, rather than European, party lists. Research shows that voters see EP contests as second-order elections and therefore often use them to “send a message” to national political parties. It appears that the few EU citizens who do vote in these elections (turnout has steadily declined since the 1970’s) have national politics on their mind. This is clearly problematic since MEPs are supposed to solve European—not national—problems. Once MEPs are elected, they form working coalitions with ideologically like-minded candidates from other member states. These groups are not true political parties—they lack cohesion, platform clarity and party discipline. This makes accountability in the EP difficult, as it is not clear to whom MEPs answer, and who should receive credit or criticism for decisions made in the EP. This lack of transparency only adds to the mistrust of, and apathy towards, the EP and the EU.
Now let us imagine an EP with a pan-European party system. In such a system, a handful of pan-European parties of various ideological positions would compete on European issues in order to obtain seats in the EP. This will encourage voters to focus on, and become better educated about, EU issues. It will also help to get voters away from thinking about themselves in national identity terms, and push them toward thinking of themselves as Europeans. Once the composition of the EP is determined, it would function very much like a national legislature. The largest party (or coalition of parties) would form a government, and there would be an opposition. Voters will be better able to discern who is to blame or to credit for EP decision-making, and will be able to punish and reward political parties in the subsequent election based on their performance.
Having pan-European EP elections would strengthen the European demos and improve accountability. It would empower voters and encourage them to be informed and responsible EU citizens. I see no reason why the EU should not experiment with this idea.
Dan Koev is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science and an EU Center FLAS fellow. His research interests have a regional focus in Europe and include ethnic politics, Euroskepticism and human rights. He is currently working on his dissertation, which deals with ethnic political mobilization in Europe.