European Parliament elections should involve only one voting district: all of Europe and not separate country seats

The European Parliament is the democratic organ of the European Union. Elections are done using proportional representation meaning there are multiple candidates elected from each constituency. In the European Union’s case each constituency can be very large with the biggest covering the whole of Germany. There is a lot of standardization but the member states still control some aspects of the elections such as deciding constituencies within certain limits (as with the overall system they need to be proportional to population so the UK could not give Scotland more seats than London and the South East). From 2014 voters will have the opportunity to elect the President of the European Commission even if this is only indirectly because it will depend on which party wins most seats in the European Parliament.[1]

The proposal for this debate is that the current mishmash of differing voting districts decided by member states be replaced with one single voting district across the whole of Europe. Every elector’s vote would count for the same and would be voting for the same options. The electoral system would remain proportional representation as it is at the moment.

There have been proposals for this in the past,[2] in 2010 there was a proposal by Andrew Duff of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs that 25 MEPs should be elected by transnational lists however this would hardly be a sweeping change across the whole parliament.[3]

There may be some quite far reaching consequences of this system; for example it would make a lot of sense if rather than every party competing for votes each block within the European Parliament should compete. However as this is a reform that could equally work in the current system this will not be explored in this debate. Another sensible variation on this debate would be to enforce that only national parties can run within each nation state. This would make quite a lot of differences to the arguments; on the prop side the choice and Europe wide thinking points become largely irrelevant while opposition arguments about the complexity of the system become meaningless. But at the same time it creates new questions such as why should there be no possibility for a transnational party representing the Roma?

[1] Hix, Simopn, and Crombez, Christophe, ‘Why the 2014 European Parliament elections will be about more than protest votes’, The London School of Economics and Political Science European Politics and Policy, 3 June 2013, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/06/03/european-parliament-elections-2014/

[2] Pech, Laurent, ‘European Parliament Elections: The Significance of Voter Apathy’, International Law Prof Blog, 3 June 2009, http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/international_law/2009/06/european-parliament-elections-the-significance-of-voter-apathy.html

[3] Duff, Andrew, ‘Draft Report on a proposal for a modification of the Act concerning the election of the Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage of 20 September 1976’, Committee on Constitutional Affairs, 12 April 2010,  http://andrewduff.eu/en/document/european-parliament-electoral-reform/draft-report-european-parliamentary-reform.pdf

 

Title 
One person one vote that will count in exactly the same way as everyone else’s
Point 

The European Parliament has a proportional representation system meaning that almost everyone’s vote counts but the change to a single constituency would still improve this. Everyone’s vote should count for the same no matter where they live. This system ensures that there is such equality in the voting for the European Parliament. From the 2014 elections Germany will have 96 MEPs and Malta 6[1] since Germany has a population of 82 million against Malta’s 400,000[2] it has one for every 854,000 inhabitants against Malta’s one MEP per 66,000. Voters in smaller states have an outsize influence. Changing to a single constituency would make every European citizen’s vote worth the same.

[1] European Parliament, ‘How many MEPs will each country get after European Parliament elections in 2014?’, Europarl.europa.eu, 13 March 2013, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/content/20130308STO06280/html/How-many-MEPs-will-each-country-get-after-European-Parliament-elections-in-2014

[2] ‘Member countries of the European Union’, Europa.eu, http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/index_en.htm, accessed 7 May 2013 

Counterpoint 

While it may be true on an individual level that everyone’s vote would count for the same in practice when looked at from a broader perspective there will not be equality. It will mean inequality among nations as turnouts will differ. Moreover democracy is not just about equality but also about defending the rights of the minority so as to prevent a tyranny of the majority this system however does not protect smaller states but allows the larger much greater influence. 

Title 
Get out the vote!
Point 

In a system where every vote counts the same and where there are not set constituencies it is much more important to get the vote out. Political parties in countries with low turn outs, such as the UK which in 2009 has a turnout of just 35%,[1] will need to get their people motivated and voting if they want to win many seats as they currently control. If a country with a comparably sized electorate were to get twice the turnout then it would get twice the representation in the parliament regardless of the similarities in the populations of those countries. What would matter is getting the national constituency out voting. This will help show that individuals really do need to vote in order to get their voice heard.

[1] ‘European Parliament Elections 2009’, House of Commons, Research Paper 09/53, 17 June 2009, http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp2009/RP09-053.pdf p.23

Counterpoint 

This is clearly extremely unfair on those countries that traditionally have much lower turnouts. It essentially means that countries with low turnouts will have less representation than they do at the moment. There is little reason why a nation as a whole should be punished by having less representation for some of its citizens not going out to vote. 

Title 
Much more choice
Point 

Having only one constituency across the whole of the European Union would mean a lot more choice for the voter. They would not be restricted to just their own national parties, instead they could vote for parties from other countries across the EU. One of the most important things in a democracy is making sure that votes actually count – a greater choice helps immensely. There will not be any opportunity to say ‘they are all the same’ when there are dozens of parties to choose from. Everyone will be able to find a party that represents their views. For example a left wing voter in the UK might want to vote for the left party in Germany feeling that the Labour party no longer represents them. 

Counterpoint 

It is not just much more choice but too much choice! Do people in Greece really want the opportunity to vote for the UK Independence Party? Will anyone really have the information to make an informed choice between all the possible parties throughout Europe? The European People’s party (one of the groupings in the European parliament) alone has 51 parties as members of its grouping is anyone really going to look up the different party policies to work out which best represents their views?[1]

[1] ‘Member Parties European Union countries’, European People’s Partyhttp://www.epp.eu/sites/default/files/lmp.pdf

Title 
Rationalises an irrational system
Point 

The current system for the European Parliament elections is irrational and quirky because it is partially set individually per nation. The vote is not held on the same day in every country – the elections take place from Thursday when the UK and Netherlands votes through to Sunday when most of the EU votes,[1] some countries divide themselves into multiple constituencies – such as the UK which has 12[2] – while others like Germany have one constituency for the whole country. Perhaps oddest of all Austrians are able to vote when they reach 16 years old while everyone else has to wait until they are eighteen.[3] And all this is before the oddities of little countries votes counting for more is included.

Rationalisation of this system is clearly necessary and this is what this proposal does. Clearly the main rationalisation is in terms of making the value of votes the same. It would also eliminate differences over constituencies. It is likely that it would eliminate the age difference too; Austria allowing its citizens to vote at 16 would effectively give it more say compared to its population size. The chances are then that other states would follow and reduce their voting age for European Parliament elections to 16. While there is no necessary link to voting on the same day it would also provide a good chance to make the change so the voting occurs at one time.

[1] ‘EU elections: Polling day will stay on Thursday, insists government’, BBC News, 13 March 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21764632

[2] ‘Your Members in the European Parliament’, European Parliament Information Office in the United Kingdomhttp://www.europarl.org.uk/view/en/your_MEPs.html

[3] European Parliament, ‘About Parliament - Members’, europarl.europa.eu, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/0081ddfaa4/MEPs.html, accessed 3 May 2013

Counterpoint 

Far from rationalising the system the European Parliament elections will become more irrational with a single constituency. Everyone will find it very odd that they can potentially vote for parties from the other side of the continent that they have never heard of. It may make the system the same everywhere but this does not mean it is a sensible system for European elections. The number of parties makes it complex, as does the concept of an international parliament where all votes go into one central pool rather than being based on nationality. 

Title 
Encourages Europe wide thinking
Point 

At the moment paradoxically European elections are often not about Europe. Much of the time they are about national politics, and since they are almost always mid-term what they are often about is punishing the national government. Governing parties’ almost always loose votes while opposition parties gain, it is notable that governing parties only gain if the election is held in their ‘honeymoon’ period after they are voted into power. More generally European elections are seen as an opportunity to vote for small parties rather than bigger ones – implying it is a chance to follow ones heart over one’s head. Europe however remains a minor element.[1]

This change in system is unlikely to mean that national governing parties gain significantly more votes but it will raise the profile of the European dimension in the elections. When people are able to vote for parties that do not contest their national elections they will have no choice but to see it as a European election rather than a national one. Voters will be much more likely to ask how the policies of these foreign parties affect them and some may even consider voting for them. A few particularly enterprising parties are likely to run transnational campaigns in the hope of picking up votes outside their home nation. The vote will simply be more European rather than the same old national parties being the only choice.

[1] Hix, Simon, and Marsh, Michael, ‘Punishment or Protest? Understanding European Parliament Elections’, The Journal of Politics, Vol.69, No.2, May 2007, pp.495-510, http://personal.lse.ac.uk/hix/Working_Papers/Marsh-Hix-JOP2007.pdf, pp.501, 503, 507

Counterpoint 

Simply allowing parties from other countries to compete is not going to encourage Europe wide thinking. There is very little to stop parties from other countries registering elsewhere already, and as the voting is already proportional there is already a chance that they could win seats. It has however not happened. 

Title 
Big countries will dominate
Point 

This system would create a tyranny of the majority that the current system guards against. The reason why smaller member states have greater representation is to prevent the possibility of the bigger states dominating in the parliament. Having smaller countries with a greater share of the seats in parliament ensures that their voice is heard. A change to a single constituency would change this to a big advantage for the bigger states. Under the current system in 2014 Germany will have 96 seats; if it were exactly proportional Germany would have 120 – a gain of 24 seats (presuming the limit of 750 remains the same). The smaller states will on the other hand loose seats and their voice in the parliament will become much more marginal.

Counterpoint 

No nation in the European Union has a majority so this is a baseless concern. The biggest country in the EU is Germany with a population of 81.8million against a total of 508million so Germany makes up a mere 16.1% of the EU total.[1] This is certainly not enough to dominate the continent.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Member_State_of_the_European_Union

Title 
Punishes apathy
Point 

People have a right not to be engaged by voting, and all the more so for a parliament they see as a gravy train with little political power. The European Parliament has comparatively little power, and where it does have power it does not affect the issues that concern people; taxes, welfare, education, and health.[1] This policy however punishes their countrymen for their desire not to vote because political apathy means less votes within that nation – which in turn means that nation’s parties will be less represented in the parliament.

[1] Pech, Laurent, ‘European Parliament Elections: The Significance of Voter Apathy’, International Law Prof Blog, 3 June 2009, http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/international_law/2009/06/european-parliament-elections-the-significance-of-voter-apathy.html

Counterpoint 

Part of the reason for such apathy is the belief that 62% of European Citizens believe that their vote “wouldn’t change anything”.[1] Why vote if it does not matter. However by changing the electoral system to being completely proportional as this change does peoples votes really do count, this is no longer a reason for apathetically not voting. 

[1] Merritt, Giles, ‘European parliament: unpopular, uninteresting, indispensable’, theguardian.com, 31 May 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/may/31/european-parliament-elections-apathy

Title 
Would undermine national sovereignty
Point 

Separating the European Parliament elections from the individual countries of Europe is clearly a challenge to national sovereignty. Each member state should be able to decide how it conducts its elections (within a certain general framework), what parties can compete in those elections, the rules governing campaigning etc. The basis of the European Union is what is agreed between the member states by the members of the European Council. In the treaty of Lisbon it was agreed that “Representation of citizens shall be degressively proportional, with a minimum threshold of six members per Member State. No Member State shall be allocated more than ninety-six seats.”[1] A change to a single constituency would break this provision that has been agreed by the nation states.

[1] ‘Article 9 A’, Official Journal of the European Union, 17 December 2007, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2007:306:FULL:EN:PDF C306/17

Counterpoint 

This assumes that there could never be agreement in the European Council, between member states, to set up such a system. Members have an interest in having a representative system that is fair democratic system of elections so should welcome these changes. The member states have already effectively agreed that the European Parliament can decide for itself what elections for the European Parliament should look like having agreed in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to accept European Parliament proposals for elections of parliament members.[1]

[1] ‘Consolidated Version of The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’, Official Journal of the European Unionhttp://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2008:115:0047:0199:EN:PDF, Article 223

Title 
This avoids the real questions about the European Parliament
Point 

The real problems with the European Parliament are not about the voting system; most people agree that the system is currently pretty fair. Rather the problem is with A, a lack of interest in European policies – only 43% are interested in European Affairs in 2013, a fall from 51% in 2012. B, the inability of the European Parliament to address the main concerns of the people which are in order unemployment, social inequalities, public debt, jobs for youth, it is not until the 7th most important challenge, immigration that the European parliament has a significant impact.[1] C, a lack of power, and where it has power lack of knowledge about the European Parliament. A change in voting system does not mean a change in the Parliament’s powers or perception.

[1] Directorate-General for Communication Public Opinion Monitoring Unit, ‘European Parliament Eurobarometer: One year to go until the 2014 European elections’, European Parliament, EB 79.5, 21 August 2013 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/eurobarometre/2013/election/synth_finale_en.pdf, p.69, 81

Counterpoint 

Discussing electoral systems may seem esoteric but the voting system makes an immense difference to the composition of a parliament. This in turn affects the balance of power in that Parliament and so what laws are actually passed. So a change in the voting system does not completely avoid the question of powers. It may also change perceptions because of the ability of parties to campaign in countries where they have not done so before.

While the lack of powers is a concern for the European Parliament this is something that is slowly changing anyway. The European Parliament was in 2009 made co-legislator with the council meaning it has much more power to stop European level legislation rather than simply being consulted. The change in 2014 to having an elected Commission President will also mean that parliament elections have some influence on the executive. Additionally even on those issues where the Parliament has little power this does not mean it does not take into account citizens’ concerns, on youth unemployment for example the parliament has launched a €15 million program of job creation aimed at youth.[1]

[1] ‘European elections 2014: Different this time?’, EurActive.com, 18 September 2013, http://www.euractiv.com/eu-elections-2014/eu-elections-2014-time-different-linksdossier-530239

Title 
Some countries may be left without representation
Point 

It is difficult to conceive of how a system can be fair when some countries will be left without any representation at all. On average there is one seat in the European Parliament for every 670,000 individuals in the EU however Malta (452,000) and Luxembourg (537,000) both have populations that are smaller than this. In effect each of these countries will only have around two thirds of a MEP. It is very unlikely that even the most popular Maltese and Luxembourgian parties will secure a seat in a fully proportional system with a single constituency. Two countries would therefore effectively be disenfranchised by this system.

Counterpoint 

It is not true that they won’t have representation; they may not have a specifically Luxembourger or Maltese party but there will be so much choice of parties that their viewpoints will be represented. Additionally this system allows the parties from these small nations to solve this problem by appealing to a wider audience beyond their borders. It is simply an added incentive to Europeanise. 

Bibliography 

‘EU elections: Polling day will stay on Thursday, insists government’, BBC News, 13 March 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21764632

Directorate-General for Communication Public Opinion Monitoring Unit, ‘European Parliament Eurobarometer: One year to go until the 2014 European elections’, European Parliament, EB 79.5, 21 August 2013 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/eurobarometre/2013/election/synth_finale_en.pdf

Duff, Andrew, ‘Draft Report on a proposal for a modification of the Act concerning the election of the Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage of 20 September 1976’, Committee on Constitutional Affairs, 12 April 2010,  http://andrewduff.eu/en/document/european-parliament-electoral-reform/draft-report-european-parliamentary-reform.pdf

‘European elections 2014: Different this time?’, EurActive.com, 18 September 2013, http://www.euractiv.com/eu-elections-2014/eu-elections-2014-time-different-linksdossier-530239

‘Member countries of the European Union’, Europa.eu, http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/index_en.htm, accessed 7 May 2013

European Parliament, ‘How many MEPs will each country get after European Parliament elections in 2014?’, Europarl.europa.eu, 13 March 2013, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/content/20130308STO06280/html/How-many-MEPs-will-each-country-get-after-European-Parliament-elections-in-2014

European Parliament, ‘About Parliament - Members’, europarl.europa.eu, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/0081ddfaa4/MEPs.html

‘Your Members in the European Parliament’, European Parliament Information Office in the United Kingdom, http://www.europarl.org.uk/view/en/your_MEPs.html

‘Member Parties European Union countries’, European People’s Party, http://www.epp.eu/sites/default/files/lmp.pdf

Hix, Simopn, and Crombez, Christophe, ‘Why the 2014 European Parliament elections will be about more than protest votes’, The London School of Economics and Political Science European Politics and Policy, 3 June 2013, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/06/03/european-parliament-elections-2014/

Hix, Simon, and Marsh, Michael, ‘Punishment or Protest? Understanding European Parliament Elections’, The Journal of Politics, Vol.69, No.2, May 2007, pp.495-510, http://personal.lse.ac.uk/hix/Working_Papers/Marsh-Hix-JOP2007.pdf

‘European Parliament Elections 2009’, House of Commons, Research Paper 09/53, 17 June 2009, http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp2009/RP09-053.pdf

Merritt, Giles, ‘European parliament: unpopular, uninteresting, indispensable’, theguardian.com, 31 May 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/may/31/european-parliament-elections-apathy

‘Consolidated Version of The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’, Official Journal of the European Union, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2008:115:0047:0199:EN:PDF ‘Article 9 A’, Official Journal of the European Union, 17 December 2007, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2007:306:FULL:EN:PDF

Pech, Laurent, ‘European Parliament Elections: The Significance of Voter Apathy’, International Law Prof Blog, 3 June 2009, http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/international_law/2009/06/european-parliament-elections-the-significance-of-voter-apathy.html

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