National laws hamstring EU elections, MEP says

National laws hamstring EU elections, MEP says

HONOR MAHONY, 18.03.2009, EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - A leading MEP has said that some member states' electoral laws are contributing to the well-documented low turnout in the European elections.


Jo Leinen, German Socialist MEP and head of the constitutional affairs committee, said there should be a common code of conduct, common standards for selecting candidates and voter lists should be issued early in order to raise the level of turnout and candidates.

Strasbourg: The hodge-podge of national laws makes it harder for ordinary people to get excited about the EU vote (Photo: EUobserver)

Citing a study carried out by his committee, the MEP on Tuesday (17 March) noted that "there is a real north-south divide," with Greece representing the "worst case."

Under Greek election law, the list of candidates only needs to be presented two weeks prior to election day. "Under these conditions, a respectable campaign by the candidates is barely possible," said Mr Leinen. In addition, the party leader "often decides personally" who will be on the EU election list.

The countries with the best practices, according to the study, are Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, where most parties have primaries, meaning a decentralised way of deciding who gets on the list.

The euro-deputy also criticised politicians who come to Brussels although they have no interest in practising European politics, referring to French justice minister Rachida Dati, who was recently strong-armed by President Nicolas Sarkozy to run in the June elections.

These practices are not going to make people more inclined to go to the polls, noted Mr Leinen, with the parliament having seen a decline in voter turnout every election year since direct elections began in 1979.

A new Europe of citizens

Mr Leinen admitted that stepping into member states' electoral territory was "highly controversial" adding that it "pertains to the transition from a Europe of states to a Europe of citizens."

The constitutional affairs committee has already dipped its toe into such electoral waters, however.

A report by UK liberal MEP Andrew Duff, which is on hold as the current legislature draws to an end but due to be taken up in September, makes a number of bold of suggestions to shake up the European elections and give them a pan-European feel.

His draft paper suggests creating a transnational constituency for a small number of additional seats; moving the elections to May to avoid summer holidays and to weekends or one single day; and having member states use semi-open list systems allowing greater choice for the voter.

The report suggests the changes - including harmonising the minimum age at which EU citizens can vote (16) and be candidates (18); special constituencies for minority languages; and redistributing seats before each election on the basis of resident populations - should take place by 2014.

The ideas are likely to cause wrangling in the parliament and among member states.

Governments have regularly clashed when it comes to determining the number of seats in the parliament and how they are distributed, while a bill changing MEPs' pay took many years of fighting before it was eventually agreed.