Now that Germany finally seems to have formed a new government, the debates on a reform of the European Union can truly start off. In the last year, many ideas (and many bad ones in particular) have been put forward, but no one knew what to expect from the largest, and by that the most influential, member state. Lucky for EU federalists, the new German government, if it comes into existence (the members of the Social Democrats still have to vote on it), will be starkly pro-EU, as I explained previously, being even more open to more integration than the old “Grand Coalition,” as the pairing of the two biggest political parties is called.
In the meantime, one of the pillars of EU reform proposals made by the likes of ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt, French President Emmanuel Macron, and EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, has been killed off last week, after having been voted down by the European Parliament: transnational lists. Macron seemingly thinks that they could still be implemented by voting a second time, but even Juncker had to admit this week that for the 2019 European elections, there is no realistic chance that this system could be implemented. It is one of the rare occasions of good news coming out of Brussels. The creation of transnational lists would have been a disastrous policy.
What are these transnational lists? Since Britain will leave the EU in 2019, 73 parliamentary seats will be vacant. One might think that these seats would just be removed – but not so fast, say EU federalists: let’s instead give all EU citizens a second vote in the upcoming elections. They shouldn’t just vote for their candidate in their respective country, but in addition be able to vote on so-called transnational candidates, of which there will be somewhere between 27 and 50 in the new parliament. These candidates are voted on by everyone inside the European Union, and are not bound to any member states – they are pan-European, i.e. transnational.
Macron has been at the forefront of this idea, saying in his famous (and frightening) Sorbonne speech:
… in order to finish building this democratic area, I’m arguing for transnational lists for 2019 that will enable Europeans to vote for a coherent, common project. … The British have decided to leave us, freeing up 73 seats in the European Parliament. … we decide that those 73 MEPs must be Europe’s response to Brexit. And there will be a transnational list where people vote for the same MEPs throughout Europe.
His protégé Verhofstadt, our favorite wannabe-liberal, even went so far to say that by not being in favor of transnational lists, we would be “on the wrong side of history,” a phrase generally used by Marxists and progressives, but which can indeed be useful if one tries to make the point that the opinion stated is inevitable anyway (i.e. don’t dare to fight against it).
But what is really so bad about the idea of transnational lists, you might ask? The problem is that members of the European Parliament and thus the entire EU bureaucracy would become even less accountable to its citizens. This is a problem the EU already has, as the so-called “democratic deficit” was one of the main reasons why the British decided to leave. Instead of giving power to the unknown waiting in Brussels, Brits wanted political power and sovereignty back closer at home, at the very least in Westminster.
Transnational lists would only widen this deficit. Those MEPs would be accountable to all 511.8 million people living in the EU at once. Instead of taking care of your own small constituency, as MEPs at least pretend to do (but which is impossible already for them, having too many people to be accountable to), the transnational MEPs would only be accountable to the mystical “European people,” something which doesn’t even exist.
Sandro Gozi, Italy’s EU minister, seemed to notice that as well, and argued in favor of transnational lists precisely because of the fact that European unity does not exist yet, but should: “If we want to build European democracy, we have to stimulate what’s lacking: transnational politics in Europe.” Building a European identity is one of main goals of all EU federalists, and transnational lists would only be a start.
What federalists need to recognize however, is that a common identity, a common culture, and common values cannot be built, no politician can stimulate these. They – being crucially important for reasons of social cohesion – need to develop organically, bottom-up, in a process of a spontaneous order. No top-down approach can do this, and whenever it has been tried, it has just lead to social engineering projects leading to misery and despotism.
Europe does not need one common European identity – or for that matter, would need the EU for that. One of the things that makes Europe so special is its diversity. It is great to have a French, a Spanish, an Italian, a Polish, and a German culture – it is also great to have a British or Swiss culture on this continent. To try to form a “Identikit European personality,” as Margaret Thatcher said, to try to eliminate all differences between different parts of Europe, would be a tremendous loss. Europe has common values – but it does not have one single identity and one single culture.
Thus, when it comes to transnational lists, the case is pretty clear. As György Schöpflin, a Hungarian MEP from the EPP group, and one of the main opponents, writes, “what we’re looking at is yet another elite-driven project in Europe that will only end up making the EU even more remote from the voters than they already are.” The discussion on transnational lists will certainly make a comeback, at the latest for the 2024 elections. But for the moment, this idea seems to be off the board. Cheers to that!
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