Forty years ago, and in a significantly different institutional context, it had appeared practical, functional, even natural, that European Parliament elections should be contested in each country-member of the EU by its own national political parties, under their own banners, expected, once in Strasburg, to associate with supposedly likeminded parties from other countries to form the European Parliament’s larger groups. It has ―or should have― by now, four decades and eight elections later, become obvious that this modus operandi of the early days of European parliamentary practice is essentially wrong, and no longer inevitable.
It is wrong for many reasons; first and foremost, because national parties are by their very nature introvert and provincial. They are always considering their own internal order of the day, at all times promoting their own national priorities, addressing the same segments of the national electorate they address in a national general election and ―what is worse―, on the same issues; judged, rewarded or chastised accordingly.
Mention of European issues, or of what each European Parliamentary formation in Strasburg precisely represents, is hardly ever being made ―which is just as well, because when it is, it is seldom done in good faith.
It is unpragmatic, even utopian, to expect predators animals such as political parties to campaign for and participate in any election for any reason other than strengthening their own sway on their own national electorate. It would run against all their instincts.
Nor do all European Parliamentary groups have adequately empowered, and self-sufficiently functional, national counterparts everywhere in the EU. Environmentalists and Liberals, for instance, are in certain countries ―Greece amongst them―, rare species, mostly taking refuge under the colours of other parties. That this should happen in a national general election is bad enough. But that their national captivity should endure even in a European context adds insult to injury.
Furthermore, it is utterly incompatible with the very basic principles and values of the EU that the procedure of this supreme ―and only―, exercise of democracy in the inner space of the EU, should be determined in each country by its own constitutional and electoral tradition, practice and rules; by its own national government and parliament ―in Greece, absurdly, by every government, timely, in place. All types of voting systems will be seen to be employed: first past the post, proportional, proportional cum bonus, punishing or rewarding big parties, totally excluding or upgrading small ones, and in constituencies of every size, small, bigger or state-wide.
This electoral Tower of Babylon is no longer inevitable. What was in the late 1970s a new experiment of unknown potential dynamic and uncertain future, is by now a well-studied feature of EU institutional practice. We, also, see rising new levels of administrative know-how and centralized command and control capabilities supported by technology. Even more importantly, we experience a rapidly increasing awareness of a gradually integrating European Demos.
The inauguration of Mr. Manfred Weber’s ―the “lead candidate” of the European Popular Party (PPP)― campaign in Athens, last month, may have been seen as a publicity stunt of the PPP and of the Greek main opposition party “New Democracy” ―the PPP’s local counterpart―, and rather demeasured in its theatricals. It may well have been both. It did, nevertheless, also reflect the beginning of a new attitude of mainstream politicians at European elections.
The formation of inter-European parties is also a step in the right direction. What is urgently needed though is uniform electoral rules.
Next should come the direct and active presence of European Parliament any formations in each country-member of the Union. They must, and sooner rather than later, embark on the venture of developing adequate central, regional and local infrastructure to begin contesting European elections directly, in their own name; not by proxy. It is only logical that the election of the members of each European Parliament should be contested by its own parliamentary groups.
There is nothing ruling out that, in a European election, a European party could or should attract voters from more than one national parties. Also, given new, suitably engineered, uniform electoral rules ―the main groups would still, for some time yet, have the upper hand in drafting them―, a revised model of European elections could, hopefully, cause the localized strength of certain extreme national movements to dilute.
It is high time that European elections became truly European.
But more on this will follow.