I’ve been wanting to get something off my chest for a while, so let’s finally do it. It’s about Europe. No, it’s not about the Netherlands and how an extremist party got the second most votes here a few of days ago, nor is it a rant about the disgustingly stupid tv debate that night on Dutch public tv, which I thankfully haven’t seen. Because no matter how frustrating and annoying it is, in the long run it matters little and I predict Mr Wilders will bite the dust sooner or later anyway. It also is not about the BNP receiving two seats in the UK, or how “the Left” lost some seats. I want to address a broader and more general issue about the European Elections, an issue that is also one of the reasons for the negative reaction and apathy from the public towards the elections.
And that is because there’s something that makes not much sense at all. How did they ever think that allowing people to only vote for national parties during European elections was a good idea? I believe it might hurt the EU actually more than it does good.
Because when you can only vote for national parties it automatically becomes some sort of second-grade national election, some sort of official poll for the upcoming elections, where people primarily vote on domestic issues and often use their vote to protest against the incumbent government. The media also interpret it as such.
The best result from these elections is that it does start off a debate on Europe. It does make people think about it and that’s a good thing. The problem however is that this debate is within country, which automatically limits the scope of the debate. The more ‘extreme’ (usually opposition) parties hijack the debate with simplistic oneliners (“Oh no, Turkey!”, “Oh no, Polish immigrants”, “Brussels is one big costly and corrupt bureaucracy” etc) that play into national sentiments against Brussels, while the more moderate parties that usually support European integration do not really respond to the EU-bashing for strategic reasons. They usually go for a “yeah, we are more-or-less for the EU, but not too much” route and hope for enough of their traditional supporters to show up and vote. It’s not surprising that the EU isn’t all that popular to the masses when their elected leaders avoid explaining and promoting it.
What Europe needs debate among Europeans, not a debate between among Dutch people, not a debate between Welsh people and people from London, but a debate between Polish and Brittish people, between Italians and Lithunians etc etc. How else can the public create an understanding of the common long-term interests we share, how else can those Polish workers that come here to take over jobs (uhu) defend themself, how else can you even have a sensible public debate of what role the EU should play as an actor towards USA, China and the Middle East? There has been a debate for decades about the lack of a common European identity, about the lack of a ‘demos’ that is necessary for a democracy, but how can an European identity progress when the European elections for the people themself is institutionally biased in favor of the nation-state, which impedes the international debate that is so much needed? (Or well, there are other ways of promoting European identity of course, but a shared democracy can be one of the biggest instigators in the process of creating an European identity)
Another problem in European politics that results from the lack of international debate is the psychological bias that everyone automatically feels towards their own national leaders when they are in conflict with other European leaders. When Sarkozy and Balkenende are in disagreement on something, I also am more likely to automatically support Balkenende, despite me considering him to be a horrible Prime-Minister and despite me perhaps agreeing with Sarkozy in this hypothetical issue. The problem is that national leaders are only accountable to their own population and that there is barely a debate between the people of different nations. National parties and politicians have their own interests that often not completely coincides with the interests of Europeans.These national politicians are however the main players with most power in the EU, but they are only indirectly accountable for their actions within the EU and often get away by playing the blame-game (“Constantly push EU policies, but when backfires “Brussels did it, not me. Oh, and didn’t I say I want less Brussels so vote for me in the next elections””).
The obvious solution would be making the European elections truly European by allowing people to vote on European parties. So why are there no pan-European parties to vote on you may wonder. Well, there are and there aren’t. Real European parties that you may vote on in every member state are prohibited. National authorities are in charge of the elections, so a political party needs to register as a national party to reach the voting lists. So the only way for a political group to become truly European is to register in several countries as a national party, which all have their own rules and barriers. Then there are huge thresholds to access representation and the distribution of the seats to the European Parliament that is being done on a national level as well. There are several pan-European parties that passed these barriers, but even the most well-funded one, Libertas, failed to get a single seat. I personally voted for Newropeans, but they did not even receive one percent of the votes here in the Netherlands. The only true European movement that is going to enter the Parliament is the Pirate Party that received a seat and 7.1 percent of the votes in Sweden. And that’s a good thing at least.
Still, the European Union needs a real democracy, it’s too important and has a too big influence on people’s lifes. It’s in desperate need for a reform. Also, I really want to be able to vote for a German. No really, just being able to do that should be a right for any European citizen.