The 2009 elections: let the voice of the European people be heard!

, by Brice Voirin-Métairie, Translated by Kate Robinson

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The 2009 elections: let the voice of the European people be heard!

With ten months to go before the European elections, European citizenship has still to be assimilated by many. And yet this citizenship is a reality, and it is these elections which offer the opportunity to give the citizens of Europe a voice.

With the French presidency of Europe reaching its mid-term, it is time we took a moment to reflect upon what exactly European citizenship is; what it represents. Europe stands for shared values. A good example of these values can be found in the Olympic spirit. Do you know who it was that won the most medals during the Olympic Games in Beijing?

China? No!! It was, in fact, the EU which, between its 27 members, returned from Beijing with no less than 280 medals, 87 of which were gold!

The question, however, that every citizen is ultimately asking him- or herself, is how they can be heard within Europe? The answer is simple; the European Parliament represents the one and only form of real democratic representation for the Citizens of Europe as a whole.

the European Parliament represents the one and only form of real democratic representation for the Citizens of Europe as a whole

The parliamentary elections are the sole opportunity that the European people have to express themselves. Some people argue that referendums offer a similar means of expression for the citizens of Europe. They are mistaken. In fact, referendums are driven for the most part by national issues (let’s not forget Ireland.) The only solution lies with the European Parliament, but what exactly are the functions of this institution?

The European Parliament as a central player in European decision making

The Lisbon Treaty aims to strengthen the role of the European Parliament within the institutional triangle.

As the current treaty stands, it is only once the Council has already made a decision that the European Parliament can have its say. The Parliament thus has a very limited influence (unless it decides to spark an institutional crisis by declining approval.) The Lisbon Treaty makes provisions for the President of the Commission to be elected by the Parliament at the recommendation of the Council, with the latter being obliged to both take into account the results of the European elections, and to consult the Parliament on its proposed candidate.

The Parliament would also acquire the right to initiate a process of treaty revision, and its approval would be required before a convention could be called. This is a significant increase in power for an institution that was, until recently, absent from treaty modification procedures.

The Parliament is made up of 9 political parties operating on a European level, 3 of which are among the most influential: the EPP-ED (European People’s party and the European Democrats), the PES (Party of European Socialists) and the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe). Between them they make up 76% of the European Parliament.

Abstention undermines the credibility of Europe

The legitimacy of the degree of democratic representation offered by the European Parliament is undermined by recurrent abstention during European elections. In fact, the disinterest of the European People for these elections is tenacious because politics does not appear to be at stake. They struggle to see the interest of the elections, or the power that the European Parliament could represent. We could, however, see an evolution of this disinterest as an old idea resurfaces.

It is an idea of Jacques Delors taken up, notably, by Alain Lamassoure and Daniel Cohn-Bendit: it all comes down to the choice of the president of the European Commission not by the states but rather according to the results of the European elections; it is the candidate of the winning party that would be chosen. This choice is of critical political significance as the Commission remains a central player in the application of decisions made by the Council and European Parliament.

The political significance of the European Commission

It is currently the States which decide on the President of the Commission following long negotiations. What is at stake is of utmost importance. Nevertheless, during the next elections we will see candidates supported by different political groups at the European level. In this way, the citizens of the 27 European states will see the President of the commission chosen according to their vote. The political element that Europeans were previously unable to distinguish in these elections will thus come into being.

It is an excellent idea which will help fight abstention and will make European opinion aware that Europe is no longer a vague structure, but well and truly a European structure working in the interests of its citizens’ daily lives. To achieve this, the political parties must present the European people with a project which will be represented by the man or woman they put forward for President of the Commission.

Public opinion regularly criticizes the decision making of Europe and in particular that of the Commission, but the best way to make a difference is to act. To vote in the 2009 European elections is thus to influence the future of Europe.

Who is eligible to vote? How do I register?

To be eligible to vote you must be a European citizen residing in a member state and be over 18 years of age.

Image: cover of a leaflet released by Cidem: la citoyenneté européenne.

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