Reform in European Union Elections Essay
The first election to the European Parliament was in 1979 under a non-uniformed voting system.
This was because at the point of the 1st election there was still no decision on the system that would be used by all countries, so it was decided as a temporary measure that all countries would just use decide on their own voting system to elect their representative. Since the 1st election there have been attempts to reform the system, there were proposals that were blocked in 1783, 98 and 1999. Because keeping in line with the Treaty of Rome a voting system would have to be decided by the council unanimously.The exact wording from the treaty is: “the Assembly shall draw up proposals for election by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in member states. The council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appropriate procedures which shall recommend to the member states for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements”. But still you would imagine that by now after 22 years that there would have been a consensus, it doesn’t seen that way and it doesn’t look as though anything is likely to happen anytime in the very near future either.
Well considering that it took 16 years to decide on what format the elections should take then you can hardly be surprised. The voting systems used by the countries in the European Union are not necessarily the same systems that they use for the elections to their own parliamentary elections. Take France, for the EP elections they have employed a form of PR that takes the country as 1 large constituency and the votes are allocated in accordance to the percentage that the party receives.The system applies a 5% threshold in order to suppress smaller extremist parties.
In comparison for their parliamentary elections they have a more complex system where the country is divided in to single member constituencies and the voting is held in 2 rounds over 2 different days in order to eliminate candidates. In Germany they use a version of PR, the Additional Member System, which is fundamentally a combination of First Past the Post and the List System. Whereas in their European elections they use a similar system to France.Greece, Spain, Portugal, Luxemburg, Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden all use a form of the list system involving one large constituency for their European elections in comparison to using systems with smaller constituencies for their national elections.
Britain has stark contrasts between the systems it uses, not only they are different systems but they are completely different principals. For the parliamentary elections (and every other election in Britain) the system of First Past the Post is used whereas the elections for the EP are under a system of PR, the List System.So what exactly do the systems entail, what are their advantages and disadvantages? And is there a system out there that could prove to be the ideal for the European Parliament elections? I intend to spend a bit of time examining the systems that are currently in use in the European Union, not just the ones that are used for the European elections but also the ones that the members believe to be superior for their national elections. It seems to be that the most popular system used for the European Parliament elections is the Party List system.This is simply where the voter votes for the party that they prefer rather than the individual candidate and thereafter the party are allocated their seats in accordance with the percentage of votes that they receive. The reason to why it is so widely used could be perhaps liked to the fact that it is a very simple voting system, both to count and also to vote.
In addition to that the system give each vote an equal weighting, unlike systems like First Past the Post where the majority of seats are in the hands of the minority of people.Saying this, the system is not perfect. In the closed list system the individual voter has no direct say in the representative that they are electing, this is left usually to the leader of that party. In some cases this can be bad for minorities because the leader is going to want people around him who are similar to him/her which in most countries cases is likely to be middle class, white and university educated. With the list system there is no direct link between the voter and their representative for 2 reasons.
) The country will be one large constituency and therefore the representative will have no allocated constituency so will not be able to relate to the voter in the same way. 2) The voter cannot see who they have elected in the same way they would with a system like First Past the Post because they haven’t picked out their representative from a list of candidates. This is done for them. So would this be a better system for use in the European Parliament? Possibly, but I think only if it the system has some changes, like dividing the country into smaller constituencies that way there will be more accountability to the voter.
The Single Transferable Vote is another form of PR in use for the European Parliament elections, but it is only used in Northern Ireland. The system is quite complex but easy enough to master. The voter has to allocate their vote in order of preference to a list of candidate i. e. give their favourite a 1, 2nd favourite a 2 and so on.
The votes are collated and the counting begins initially peoples voter will be counted into piles in accordance with their number 1 voter.Then if this candidate reaches their quota then the remainder of the votes will be distributed to the number 2 voter, and when that candidate reaches its quota the remainder of the votes will be distributed this time by the number 3 voter and so on. The quota rule is the same for all STV elections = votes +1 Seats +1 Although with STV you essentially lose the strong link between the representative and the voter because the constituencies would be larger than they would be than with something like FPTP.But there still would be a link with the representative just now there would be 2 or 3 representatives and because the voter is directly voting for the candidate rather than the party they are able to see a link between themselves and their representatives and they can therefore relate to their representative. With a system like STV the majority are represented because it requires that in order to form the government you need to receive at least 50% of the vote.
In other words a coalition would have to be formed, this could be either a good or a bad thing.With a coalition you are going to get consensus politics, things will be compromised and voters will get legislation that voters did not vote for. If you look at Britain’s national elections no one party has received over 50% of the vote in any election since the Second World War. But in the case of the European Parliament either way there is always going to be a coalition, no one party is likely to get a big enough share of the vote to result in them forming the government, in other words either way there will probably end up being a coalition government anyway.Because of the likely hood of a coalition forming the result from this system is likely to be a stable government because there will be no adversarial politics i.
e. there is less chance of huge changes to the governments policies. Whereas systems that have one party in control tend to have huge swings in government policy, which can lead to a weaker government. Not only that, but within the constituency the majority of the voters will be represented because it is very likely that there will be at least one person that they gave one of their votes to.Out of all of the systems STV gives the voter the greatest choice, not only the get to chose the candidate they can specify preference between candidates in the same party. This is this freedom of choice is unique to STV and is a reason to why politicians dislike this system.
They feel that it gives the voter too much power and feel threatened by it. Because in a system like FPTP if an representative has a safe seat the voter doesn’t really have anyway of getting them out because you believe in the party policy but you dislike the representative so it is a no win situation, but with STV you could simply pick another member of the party.Some critics believe that STV is too complex and would confuse voters and therefore put them off. But the fact that in the first election under STV in Northern Ireland there was a 70% turnout, which is well above the average turnout for any election. STV is an option for reform in the EP but it would be too hard to implement because most of the members are unfamiliar with it as a voting system and could result in a lot of confusion. In Germany and Scotland the Additional Member System which is essentially a mixture of FPTP and the List system for the national elections.
The voter gets 2 voters, one for choosing their favourite candidate under FPTP and the other they simply choose their favourite party under the list system. Does this mean that the voter gets the best of both worlds? Because it is just a mix of the 2 systems surely it must just combine some or all of the faults of FPTP and the list system. Well with this system parties are getting a proportional share of the representatives and at the same time there is the strong link between the representative and their constituencies.But it would still be the case that about half of the representatives would still not be accountable to the voters but instead to they are accountable to the party. AMS creates 2 types on representatives; one type is the regular representative who has a good constituency link and is well respected by their peers and their voters.
The other is seen as a 2nd class representative because they were not directly voted for. Here there is no real link to the voter because the voter is not associating themselves with someone who they didn’t directly vote for and are more likely to use the representative that they can associate with.There is also a certain aspect of snobbery between representatives who are elected on the FPTP part and the ones who were elected on the list. In the Scottish parliament there was dispute because the list MSPs had to share an office whereas the ones elected form the FPTP vote got their own office. With AMS people are more likely to support smaller parties because they know that it wont be a wasted vote and if even if they do waste that vote they know that they still have at least one effective vote.Under systems such as FPTP people are often scared to vote for smaller parties because they know that there will be no point and that their vote would be wasted.
But some people still believe that the under-represented would still not do any better because in order to get a share of the seats in the list system there is usually a threshold that a party has to surpass in order to get seats (usually around 5%). This is really to keep out extremist parties but it will also keep out some of the legitimate smaller parties.Germany is well known for its strong government and this is due to AMS, they tend to have coalition governments and the majority are represented. But to a certain extent under AMS there is still the problem with the list system that too much of the power is in the hands of the party, they decide who represents the voters. In my view AMS would be the best system to use in the European Parliament because it would not be totally foreign to the member states because it uses the list system, which is in use in most of the member states, and it isn’t a very complex system to vote with or to count.And at the same time it gives a proportional government.
The other system to consider is First Past the Post, which is currently in use in the UK for parliamentary elections and was also used by the UK to vote in the EP elections but this changed in 1999 when the UK started using a PR system to elect its representatives. First Past the Post has the advantage of being very simple both to vote and also to count. It creates a strong government that does not have to compromise the policies in that they stand for and got them voted because they have a coalition.The UK is notorious for its strong government and that is because the Prime Minister does not have to consult and agree with another party before they make a decision.
It also means that there is strong competition for the government there will always be someone to challenge what they are doing because there isn’t usually much between the main parties and they know that if they slip up they might not get re-elected. With FPTP there is a strong link between the representative and their constituency because the voter can see whom they voted for and associate with them.But FPTP does have its disadvantages. There is a lack of choice, because although you might believe in a party’s policy you may dislike their candidate and you are left with a win/lose situation, you either vote for a candidate you dislike or you vote for a party you dislike either way you can’t win.
In the same breath you can talk about how when there is a safe seat it is hard to get rid of a dodgy representative because although there is support for the party people don’t actually want to vote for that representative.First Past the Post is unfair to smaller parties because it is a case of winner takes it all there is often not enough support in a single constituency for the candidate to get elected for a smaller party. But on the country as a whole there is a significant support that should in some way be represented for e. g. in the 1997 general election in the UK the Conservative Party won 17. 5% of the votes in Scotland but didn’t receive any seats at all.
I think due to the fact that there is little correlation between the votes and the actual representative using FPTP in the EP would just be silly!To conclude, do we really need reform in the European elections? Well, duh of course we do! Because not only there is inconsistency there is different levels of representation in Luxemburg there is an average of 72,000 inhabitants per MEP in comparison Germany has 829,000 inhabitants per MEP surely this cannot be fair that the people in Luxemburg are better represented than the people in Germany, after all shouldn’t everyone in the European Union be equal?There is also the case that there is severe voter apathy in the EP elections, for the 1999 election there was a 24% turnout in Britain, which is well below par. Could this be anything to do with the fact the voters are uninterested because they are un-represented? It could also be something to do with the fact that people are uninformed, perhaps what we need is everyone to show a little more interest in Europe and we might start getting somewhere.