While the European Parliament elections are still more than a year away, the elections, scheduled for 23-26 May 2019, are about to bring yet another challenge for the EU institutions.
Pan-European lists: off the table for 2019
Following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, the UK will no longer be represented in any decision-making body of the Union. While this directly applies to its position in the European Council, Council of the EU and the Commission, it arguably will have the greatest impact on the composition of the European Parliament. Currently, 79 of its 751 seats are held by UK MEPs from different political families.
Some MEPs proposed that, following Brexit, 46 of the 79 seats should be re-allocated to so-called pan-European lists, which would have enabled European citizens to directly vote for their preferred lead candidate, irrespective of nationalities.
The concept of the pan-European lists is not new; however, it has been heavily attacked by MEPs who feared that these seats would be filled by super-politicians without a clear constituency. As such pan-European MEPs would often represent millions of citizens, they could not be regarded as offering any real value for citizens.
In a contested vote in the European Parliament in early February, the proposal was eventually defeated, and as a result, the European Parliament will shrink from 751 to 705 members in the new term.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was one of the main advocates of the pan-Euorpean lists, views them as “contributing to strengthening European democracy by creating debates on European challenges and not strictly national ones during EU elections”. Macron and other European political groups, including the liberal ALDE and the Greens in the European Parliament, say pan-European lists would help face down Eurosceptic parties that have seen strong support in recent years.
On the other hand, smaller Member States, fearing that pan-European lists would be dominated by Germany, France or Italy, are strongly opposing the idea.
While European citizens will directly elect Members of the European Parliament in May 2019, they will also, indirectly, vote on a new President of the European Commission. The process, nicknamed as the ‘Spitzenkandidaten process’ was first introduced in the 2014 EU elections in a push for increased transparency and democratic accountability in the EU institutions.
Through the Spitzenkandidat – or lead candidate process – European political parties designate one candidate each for the post of president. The candidate of the political group that will have the most elected members in the next European Parliament will also have the right to nominate the next president of the European Commission.
While several heads of EU Member States – including Mr. Macron -voiced their concerns against this process, MEPs overwhelmingly supported it in a recent Resolution on the issue.
The EP vs. Council
Both the issue of the pan-European lists and the Spitzenkadidat process are crucial debates which sparks conflict not only among the Member States as well as among the Members of the European Parliament but also between the Council and the European Parliament.
The EU is progressing toward a more direct, transparent and simple election procedure. The elections in 2019 promise interesting developments and the race for the new European Commission President position will certainly be a tough one.