Democracy is one of the key values on which the European Union is founded. To ensure the functioning of a representative democracy on the European level, the treaties determine that the citizens of the European Union are directly represented in the European Parliament, as well as indirectly represented by their elected leaders in the European Council.
Political parties fulfil an essential role in a representative democracy. They are indispensable to the democratic and electoral process. The founders of the first European-level political parties in the 1970s and the drafters of the subsequent European treaties recognised this role, and at present European political parties are firmly established in the European democratic structure.
In democratic theory and practice, a political party is expected to perform several functions, which amongst others include the aggregation and articulation of voter’s interests, develop political programmes, recruit political leaders and contest in open elections. The principal role of a political party is to create a direct link between the citizens and the outcomes of political decision-making, and thus enhancing the legitimacy of the political system as a whole. In this vein, political parties at the European level are expected to contribute to forming a common European political awareness and to express the will of the citizens of the Union, as is laid out in the treaties.
Though bringing the European Union and its citizens closer together was the main objective of the founders of the European political parties, as well as the incentive for several reforms on the rules governing European political parties, there is still much discussion about the so-called democratic deficit of the European Union and the continuing gap between the Union and its citizens.
In this context, the unsatisfactory turnout at European elections and the failure to engage the European public in electoral campaigns is frequently mentioned. Indeed, a persisting incongruity can be observed between the accepted functions of political parties as well as the functions laid down in the treaties, and the actual functioning of European political parties in everyday European politics. This incongruity is reflected in a limited European political awareness of citizens, who still engage primarily in national political debates rather than in European debates.
At the same time, the European Elections 2019 saw the highest turnout in 20 years. This positive development in terms of citizens’ political participation in the EU needs to be further strengthened.
The European Parliament has consistently consolidated the position of European political parties. Several legislative acts have been adopted that regulate the funding of European political parties, the involvement of European political parties in European-wide campaigns, the creation of political foundations, and that address the legal status of European political parties. The 2014 European elections also included the novelty of parties nominating candidates for the presidency of the European Commission (in one occasion even through an open primary), introduced to engage the European public more in the election campaign.
The European Movement is convinced that the realisation of a truly transnational European democracy starts with an innovation of the European political system. A reform of the European electoral system and the rules governing the European parties is necessary to enable European political parties to act as vital bridges between European policies and the European public.
To strengthen the public engagement in the European democratic process and to enable the European political parties to truly express the will of the citizens of the Union, the European Movement proposes:
Transforming the European elections into a genuine democratic exercise and first-order elections, which would ultimately guarantee a more robust EU democratic architecture and contribute to addressing the so-called democratic deficit.
The creation of a European constituency in addition to the national or regional party lists and voting procedures to create a truly trans-national European democracy.
Selection of candidates for the European constituency by European political parties, to increase the connection between MEPs and their European political parties. The European lists should feature no more than 60% candidates from one gender, distributed in a balanced manner throughout the list.
More autonomy for the European political parties with respect to their individual members at the national level, to enrich their role in the European political system.
While implementing recommendations 2 to 4, balanced participation of citizens from all EU member states must be guaranteed.
Making sure that the outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe features prominently in the European election campaigns in 2024.
Making individual members of parties at national level aware that they are thereby also members of Europe-wide parties.
The possibility to establish European political parties based solely on individual membership of citizens from several Member States.
A clear focus on European themes in European elections, to provide a link between the voter’s choice and the actual work of European parties and groups in the European Parliament, for example:
Making the affiliation of national parties with a European political party visible on the ballot paper and campaign materials.
Increasing the presence of European political parties in media and public debates, aided by the European selection of candidates and the publication of party programmes Europe-wide.
Increasing the financial means of European political parties to allow them to facilitate more cross-national exchanges between parties and citizens.
Continuing to engage in EU-wide campaigns on the role and actions of the European Union, building up on the successes of the campaign ‘This Time I’m Voting’ ran in the lead-up to the 2019 European elections.
Using the proposed changes in the EU’s electoral process to bring about an honest and open discussion on the structure and organisation of the leading EU posts.
European electoral reform reappeared in the spotlight with the own-initiative report on ‘The reform of the electoral law of the European Union’, prepared by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. The Legislative Initiative resolution on the reform was voted on 11 November 2015 and passed with 315 votes in favour; several discussions with the Council have been held since then. For the adoption of changes to the European electoral law, unanimity in the Council is required.
In February 2018, EU lawmakers adopted a resolution on the composition of the European Parliament that introduces a new allocation of seats in the EP and allows to reduce the number of seats to 705. While it also gives the lead candidate process the green light, it rejects the proposal to introduce transnational lists for the 2019 elections.