European elections in 2019: European Movement – France struggles for regional constituencies
In order to bring the European institutions closer to the French people, we should abandon the idea of a single national list to replace the 13 European Parliament constituencies, say Yves Bertoncini and Olivier Mousson, President and Secretary General of European Movement – France in an Op-Ed called “European Elections: further, not backwards” and published in Euractiv.
The dialogue surrounding the reform of the voting system for how the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected in France is a good opportunity to assess how the French President wishes to translate the speech he held at Sorbonne University into actions. While this stirring speech proved Emmanuel Macron to be an advocate of transnational lists for the 73 seats soon to be vacated by the United Kingdom, it curiously overlooked a possible reform of the national voting system whose outcome will change dramatically how citizens are represented in the European Parliament and how the European Union is rooted in France.
In 2004, French authorities were right to abandon a voting system which had national lists compete with each other and had several disadvantages: the absence of elected officials locally and the total disconnection between them and their constituents, lists drawn up by political party leaders to find seats for government or parliamentary rejects, campaigns focused on national issues and led by a handful of party leaders who, for the most part, ended up resigning after the elections results. It is all the more surprising to read that the French government is tempted to revert to a national voting system while claiming to promote a citizen-centric approach for Europe and for public policy in general. It would also be quite odd to advocate such backtracking on the grounds of the almost non-existent link between MEPs and their constituents, while severing this same bond should France become a single national constituency.
Let us be perfectly clear: MEPs will never be as close to their constituents as French members of Parliament. Firstly, because EU powers remain limited by the principle of subsidiarity and because the decisions of MEPs have a less direct impact on the life of French citizens than the decisions of the national members of Parliament. Secondly, because it would impossible for a European Parliament made up of more than 5000 members, elected on the basis of the ratio of 1 MEP for 110 000 inhabitants used for the legislative elections in France, to function properly: this is why a European MEP represents on average 700 000 citizens which inevitably weakens the local bond. But these are also two reasons precisely why we should not adopt a voting system which takes constituents even further away from the European parliamentarians who are supposed to represent them in Strasbourg and Brussels.
We must continue strengthening the bond with constituents, as started in 2004, using the opportunity offered by the recent creation of 13 regions at a “European scale”: these European Parliament constituencies would be closer to the people and easily understandable. Having constituencies the size of the former 22 regions was impossible, since France would no longer have complied with the principles of proportionality and political pluralism mandated by European regulations – these regulations have led many of the less populated countries in Europe to choose a single national constituency. Dividing the state into 13 constituencies, in addition to the already existing constituency for the French overseas, is however certainly feasible. The United Kingdom, which has about as many inhabitants as France, has set up 12 constituencies for the European elections, while Poland, with only 40 million inhabitants, has decided upon 13: this means that nothing can prevent France from creating 14 constituencies, or if need be, 11 or 12 by merging the less populated regions with their neighbours in order to avoid strong demographic imbalances.
Choosing a region-based voting system for the European elections would undoubtedly provide further encouragements to MEPs who must work in Strasbourg and Brussels while remaining accountable and spurring debate with their constituents – including at the initiative of the European Movement France. On the other hand, returning to a single national voting list would reflect rather unclear motives from a citizen’s perspective, if not even reflecting basic partisan interests. In any case, claiming to be committed to building a new Europe on the basis of the practices of the old Europe would be nothing but a complete paradox.