European perspective: We’re being transnational, why can’t you?

, by Juuso Järviniemi, Laura Mercier, Michał J. Ekiert, Tobias Gerhard Schminke, Xesc Mainzer Cardell

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European perspective: We're being transnational, why can't you?
Despite being the President of the Union of European Federalists, Elmar Brok voted against transnational lists with his EPP group. CC - European Committee of the Regions

On Wednesday, 7 February, the European Parliament rejected the introduction of transnational lists for European elections in 2019, with 368 votes against and 274 in favour. A missed opportunity for Europe. Chief editors from different language editions share their reflections and opinions on the topic.

European democracy denied by the ones I trusted

Juuso Järviniemi – Editor-in-Chief of The New Federalist

I know a number of people who don’t feel represented by politicians in their home country, but who have an idol in the European Parliament. On Wednesday, the Parliament could have offered them the opportunity to vote for someone whose ideas they truly share. That was denied.

As it stands, citizens of small member states only have a handful of MEPs who regard them as their constituents. With a transnational list, the number of MEPs accountable to each citizen would have increased. For millions, it would have multiplied. This, too, was denied.

To many, transnational lists are the single most fascinating proposal for developing European democracy. The European Union is an exercise in doing something that humankind has never before managed to achieve. Allowing Europeans to elect some of their deputies on a continental scale would have been just that. An EU-wide constituency will be a unique laboratory for a new type of political campaigning, a new type of democracy. It will give European elections a new flavour. On Wednesday, the European Parliament could have voted for this. It did not.

The European Parliament had its chance; it did not take it. It has often been repeated that we are currently living a unique period in European history, that the window of opportunity for essential and exciting reforms is open. I have come to know the European Parliament as a forward-looking institution, one that I can look to when I want to feel inspired about what Europeans can do together – as the institution that I can trust to get things done. I now feel disappointed, even betrayed.

The anti-European People’s Party

Tobias Gerhard Schminke, Editor-in-Chief of treffpunkteuropa

And once again it has shown itself: the liberal-conservative EPP Group in the European Parliament (“Parliamentary group of the European People’s Party”) rears its nationalist brake block-head. The EPP members like to decorate themselves in political speeches with outspoken pro-Europeanism, but when it comes to implementing legislation, then this principle is just quickly thrown out of the window.

You do not have to ponder for a long time to think of recent examples to support this claim: The Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer and the Austrian Chancellor shortsightedly closed their borders to the European south instead of fighting for Schengen. The Hungarian Prime Minister Orban ignored European law, opposing the refugee distribution quotas and got warmly welcomed by Merkel’s coalition partner CSU. Former German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has been enthusiastically celebrated in Germany, has not even tried to convince his party members of a euro-bond concept that is fit for the future and financially reasonable.

And now the group of the Liberal-Conservatives, who in every way should be the phalanx of centre-right pro-Europeanism, opposed that less than 50 of the 751 seats are determined by transnational electoral lists. Dear EPP, if you are not in the mood for more federalism or you do not care what happens to our continent, please do not pretend to do so any longer. The only thing which is still pan-European about you, is the lack of concept and vision. It is quite legitimate to assume that the EPP supported the rejection of the transnational election lists with flimsy arguments for pure power interest.

The currently existing national electoral thresholds to enter the European Parliament harm first and foremost small parties, the EPP as the largest group profits the most. Where are the Helmut Kohls, Konrad Adenauers and Winston Churchills of our time, who bravely and intellectually co-create and develop Europe as conservatives? It is perfectly clear that not all EPP members in the European Parliament are not concerned about Europe. But the group for which this is the case must be more visible in the future. Otherwise, the liberal-conservative parties of the EPP will once again be Europe’s political brake block.

Fake European MEPs

Laura Mercier – Editor-in-Chief of Le Taurillon

MEPs, the question was simple... If an Italian MEP from a specific political family regards a Danish MEP from the same political family as a stranger, then how are we going to create a sense of community between ourselves?

MEPs, once you’re seated in the hemicycle of the European Parliament, you are not only representing the citizens from your respective country. You are representing every European citizen. However, you do not have the legitimacy to do so, because only a minority of them got the possibility to vote for you, or against you.

MEPs, the equation was easy… A transnational list would have promoted a truly European debate, not only confined to national issues. A transnational list would have been a way to develop a European public space. A transnational list would have been the symbol the Union needs, the key to deepening our integration despite Brexit. And the Union needs those symbols, concrete progress, to be ever more integrated.

MEPs, you should be the first ones to understand how urgent and necessary it is to bring European citizens closer to each other, to show them that the European elections are not any ballot day, but a European, transnational and democratic one. MEPs, you are sitting in the most democratic institution of the European Union... how could you oppose its strengthening? How could you vote against a transnational list when every day, in their daily life, European citizens are living in a transnational space without even realising it, in their job, their travels, among their friends and family? By opposing the creation of one – yes, ONE – transnational list, you missed a unique shot to cut the distance between you and the citizens that you are supposed to represent everyday. But despite all of this, may 2019 come fast, so that at the polls, we can vote for new MEPs who will be able, I hope, to solve this simple equation on which you just failed.

A vote of hypocrisy

Xesc Mainzer Cardell - Editor-in-Chief of El Europeista

Yesterday a great opportunity to advance towards a real pan-European democracy was missed. An alliance of groups located on opposite sides of the political spectrum tore down the proposal to provide the European Parliament with 46 members directly elected in a continental-wide constituency.

A negative vote was to be expected from Eurosceptics, with the already typical point of saving costs. But I’d dare to say that a great disappointment was the rejection of the idea by the united left, that joined the Eurosceptic reasoning of cost saving. But perhaps the greatest disappointment of this alliance against progress was that of the European People’s Party which defended it’s vote against transnational lists on the reason that it would mean a “separation” between representatives and represented, who would lose their reference in Parliament. When a similar system of mixed election is used in bodies like Germany’s Bundestag that kind of criticism isn’t heard from the EPP members in said country, what points clearly at the hypocrisy of the argument.

With yesterday’s defeat, the people lose the possibility of getting more options to vote for at the elections to the European Parliament, but we also lose in our constant effort to achieve a more plural Europe.

I think most of us federalists would like to have a Europe with two deliberative chambers for popular and territorial representation respectively. But as that isn’t possible as of today, we can do nothing but resign ourselves with achieving small steps towards a direct representation of the European demos altogether. Maybe we’ve lost today, but time will put us in our rightful place.

Setback? We don’t give up the fight

Michal Ekiert – International Officer of JEF-Poland

Today’s vote was an important event for the way of defining federalism in Europe. Many of us may be thinking of it as a regressive moment for the idea of unification, and it’s surely the right conclusion. The European People’s Party (EPP) decided not to defend the interests - as it states in its own name - of the European people. Instead, its MEPs decided to defend nationalistic disunity of their folks. Hitherto the dominant narrative in the camp of European federalists has assured us of the necessity of transnational lists to succeed. Certainly, that would constitute progress fortifying the idea of a European community.

However, taking into consideration various federal systems already in place, especially the way they approach franchise, we can find something nourishing in that very unfortunate moment. During the First International Conference on Federalism in Mont Tremblant in October 1999, US President Bill Clinton argued that federalism, and the identity borne by its adherents, allows peoples to avoid the isolation within a nation-state. It’s certainly in correlation with the way existing federations deal with electing their representatives.

Lok Sabha, the Indian lower house of Parliament, an amalgam of cultures and languages, is elected through the first-past-the-post system. Canada, United States of America, Brazil and Argentina all elect their representatives solely on a geographical basis, without solutions reflecting our present European approach to federalism. Our idea and understanding of federalism received a severe pushback yesterday, but moments like this one are defining for the firmness of any ideal. Every ideology that is unable to adapt to the changing reality will perish. Therefore, nothing, not even the most treacherous vote in the Parliament, excuses us from seeking new ways of expressing European federalism.

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