Impressions from the conference on the reform of European electoral law, 2 July @ European Parliament

News / 24.7.15

The 2nd July marked the day of the conference on the reform of European electoral law: an opportunity to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the EU in the European Parliament, which was organised by the EFA-Greens group and co-hosted by Josep-Maria Terricabras MEP, Jill Evans MEP and Jordi Sebastià MEP. Main topics of the conference were the harmonization of electoral procedures, strengthening democratic legitimacy and possible re-arrangements of the constituencies to highlight regions and stateless nations.

As part of the conference, the Centre Maurits Coppieters took the chance to interview some of the participants and panelists on their view of possible changes of the European electoral law. Albert Aixalà from the Catalunya Europe Foundation and author of the study on Spitzenkandidaten “A president for Europe?”, took part in the first panel. In his view, the introduction of Spitzenkandidaten helped to spark debates in some countries, which in turn showed higher voter turnout than those, where the level of debate and discussion was lower. He pleads for more tools and funding for European political parties to campaign all over Europe, in order to “speak directly to the citizens”.

Josep Maria Reniu, University of Barcelona, highlighted three possible innovations to the European electoral law: first, opening electoral processes, both in voting and stand as candidates, to all citizens above the age of 16. Second, the necessity to rethink European (or national) constituencies (single state or regionally-specific?). And lastly, in his opinion an electoral management body would be necessary to bundle electoral processes and to “consider Europe as a whole”.

Next, Simon Toubeau, University of Nottingham and author of the Coppieters publication on Electoral Contestability, elaborated on the necessity of electoral reform in order to give MEPs and European institutions more legitimacy. Further, the proper representation of minority groups remains an issue, while according to the speaker, the aim has to be “to construct a homogeneous and coherent electoral system on a European scale”, making the question of the role of constituencies vital.

The second panel featured Bernd Hüttemann, Secretary General of the European Movement Germany, who emphasized the need of a common European electoral system, while strengthening the European political parties. At the same time, in his opinion, compromises would have to be found “both inside and outside the parliaments”.

Fflur Jones, partner in the law firm Darwin Gray, emphasized her interest in how electoral reforms can be used to “regain trust of the European electorate in European institutions”. It would further be necessary to ensure proper representation of minority groups, while looking beyond the member states in the cooperation between devolved nations (like Wales) and the European Union.

Finally, Willie Sullivan, member of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, stated that electoral reform can only be the beginning towards achieving a better democracy, since it is a crisis of representative democracy both at EU and national level. He elaborates on positive impressions from the referendum in Scotland, where people got more involved, “asking themselves in what country they wanted to live in”. For him, better democracy can be achieved when “the means and ends [towards the achievements] become the same”.

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