France: What electoral list for the European elections?

, by Chloé Lourenço, Natacha Da Rocha, Translated by Lorène Weber, Voix d’Europe, Wassila Zouag

France: What electoral list for the European elections?
Photo: CC0

Let’s move back, twenty years ago. As all Europeans, the French citizens will go to vote at the European elections next May. Up until now, the country was divided into eight regional constituencies, but in January 2018, the French government decided to go back to a single constituency. What are the changes to foresee? Voix d’Europe sheds some light on the situation.

A move back, twenty years ago

In January 2018, exactly twenty years after the establishment of a system of regional constituencies, the French government announced the comeback to a single constituency (and consequently to a single electoral list). Eventually considered unclear, blurry and too complicated, the division into eight regional constituencies has disappeared, and the French voters will now have the choice between the same candidates on the whole territory. In France, as in most other EU member states, the European elections will now work as follows: one constituency, one list, one lead candidate, identical everywhere in France.

Why opt for this change? Emmanuel Macron, famously pro-European, wishes to involve the French citizens much more in European affairs. Coming back to a single list is the starting point. The idea is the following: with a national list, we will have a national debate.

In 2014, this move back had been advanced by the government at the time, but it was quickly abandoned, out of the fear that it would have harmed the political appraisal – already far from brilliant – of President François Hollande.

And this is the heart of the problem. The principal risk for Emmanuel Macron’s government is that the French citizens go to the polls more to judge the first two years of his presidency than to really elect their MEPs. The European elections, which are the first intermediary elections of his five-year presidential term, foreshadow a referendum “for” or “against” Emmanuel Macron, and will represent a real test for him.

In January 2018, when the measure was decided, the movement of the “yellow vests” was not rearing its head yet. That’s why the critics of the single list fear an election of “Franco-French parties”.

More ’readable’ elections?

The French executive considered that the division in constituencies should bring the citizens closer to their MEPs and enable everyone to know them better. Nonetheless, twenty years after the introduction of this system, this has not really worked. Who, in France, is able to name even one of the MEPs of their constituency? Only a few, to tell the truth.

However, will coming back to the single list change anything about this problem? Nothing is less certain. Indeed, France has no tradition for European political careers. With the prohibition to hold multiple offices, there is a concern for the running candidates to be complete strangers for the voters. Then, will they be truly closer to their voters than they currently are?

Let’s hope that moving back to a single list will make the European elections’ voting system more ’readable’ and encourage the French citizens to go vote. The last European elections in 2014 did not rally a lot of voters: only 42,43% of the French voters went to the polls.

What about transnational lists?

With Brexit scheduled on 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave 73 vacant seats in the European Parliament. [1] The debate on the creation of transnational lists was thus brought up again.

"The idea of transnational lists is not new. It appeared after the adoption of the European Single Act in 1986, and later with the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. This major evolution of the European construction brings a greater political integration”, underlined the online magazine Toute l’Europe. At the time, the transnational lists were pushed by federalist movements.

In 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, proposed the implementation of transnational lists for the 2019 European elections, but the European Parliament voted against this change.

This article, courtesy of Voix d’Europe, is a part of “Le Grand Format Européen”, a cooperation initiative between The New Federalist and three Paris-based student journals. This week, we publish articles concerning the upcoming European elections from Voix d’Europe as well as Courrier d’Europe - Made in Sorbonne and Eurosorbonne.


[1Translator’s note: In June 2018, the European Parliament voted for 46 of the 73 UK seats freed up by Brexit to be made available for possible EU enlargement, and for the 27 remaining UK seats to be shared out among 14 underrepresented EU countries.

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