Past a “Great Perhaps”, the transnational lists for the European Parliament Election become a great doubt


by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

Considering the “Great Perhaps” – as Rabelais stated in his very last words when passing away to the final destination – surrounding Brexit, one great doubt has just emerged. Yesterday, the European Parliament voted and approved in plenary (431 x 182. There were 61 abstentions) the report on the new seats distribution of MEPs for the period after the UK withdrawal. Yet, the inclusion of a joint constituency comprising the entire territory of the Union, the well-known transnational lists topic, was rejected. Previously and long evaluated, the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) had approved (17 x 8) the future structure in Jan., 24th. That would mean that in the next elections, besides the usual ballot, there’d be one separate “section” in which the European citizens and residents would vote for representatives not on a Member State-by-Member State basis, but on a general basis instead. Such “section” would have 27 seats (ideally with preannounced runners) to be fulfilled by the most voted candidates in the ballots across the whole Union without national divisions. The Council still would have to unanimously agree on the issue before the new system entered into force (and the Parliament would need to vote again confirming) but the proposal is in this part (for) now off the table.

The general seat change has happened because the composition of the EP needed to go through modifications given the MEPs from the United Kingdom end their terms in 2019 and will not be candidates again following Brexit.

Some criticism was put forward in the EP, mostly by the European People’s Party (EPP), which in short believes that in classic Federal systems such section doesn’t exist – for the EPP the effort should be to create bounds in the national and regional levels and that is not possible with that section – and that a system of this kind jeopardises the influence of Member States with smaller populations as their citizens votes are outnumbered by the larger.

Well, those ideas are worthy reflections to demonstrate their erroneousness – especially now to admonish the rejection of the transnational list in the Parliament. We have to recall first that the peoples of each Member State are already represented by their MEPs in the filling of the seats designated in accordance with the standards and the demographic criteria established in Article 14, TEU and Article 223, TFEU. The rule states a “degressive proportionality” distribution between 6 and 96 MEPs per Member States. However, at the moment, no exact fixed number of MEP per Member State is determined and the Council makes a decision in that regard before every election. Only then it is defined how many representatives each Member State will be entitled precisely.

Had the EP’s original proposal been approved, and provided that in either case a confirmation by the Council without amendments is needed, there would be a total of 732 seats (705 to be elected in individual Member States plus 27 in the transnational list). After the rejection of the transnational list topic, the total seats will be 705. Irrespective of the transnational list clause, in this model, no Member State loses any seats and some will get from +1 to +5 to readjust under-representation. In other words, the proposal approved puts forward a reduction of seats and a redistribution of them but not the creation of a transnational list.

So, what can be thought to enhance the feasibility of that eventual creation? Here are some responses to the main (and mistaken) thesis underlying the reasons for the rejection vote. Although the representation of each people of the Member States is long a fact, without national divisions in the transnational section, it would indeed be relevant to find an equation or a formula to balance the weight of the populations (and to prevent topsy-turvy senatorial tendencies of the future ‘transnational’ MEPs) as far as this section is concerned. That’s why solutions such as the FSP method are being debated and others studied. So, the worries on a potential harm to mid-sized and small population Member States can be easily alleviated. It’s a simple math question of finding the right number in proportion.

Apart from that, the criticism that led to the result was based upon the mistaken comparison that classic, national Federal systems don’t present similar “trans-territorial” models must be seen as it is: shallow, incongruous criticism attempt over a tool from a non-classic Federal system like the one EU resembles. The European integration is constantly looking for structural novelties that match its own uniqueness. Novelties that statehood may not always grasp – and indeed most of the times it doesn’t suffice. The Union innovates state models towards broader, more profound and sophisticated institutional arrangements. Therefore, we can’t expect past, regular instruments to respond the challenges the Union faces simply because it’s all unparalleled. We need to seek proper, original keys to unlock apparent riddles – and even “Great Perhaps”.

All in all, the transnational or pan-European list doesn’t aim at the representation of the peoples of the Member States – already granted in the usual lists. It aims at fostering a sentiment of common representation, unified amongst all peoples; after all common representatives will be elected! In fact, transnational lists depict one of the finest representations of the European citizenship (of the being European): being at the same time a national citizen and a Union citizen. It is, thus, a significant dimension of the interconstitutionality that is the foundation of the EU legal order.

The vote on transnational lists was an opportunity – of many – to turn the Great Perhaps of Brexit into a great destination for the EU. Instead, the rejection by the European Parliament turned it into another ‘what could it have been’ in the never-ending road of integration.

Picture credits: seventy-one by Maddle Keating.

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