Britain’s exit from the EU will have significant consequences. It is a decision that we lament but respect; we are making efforts to organize an orderly departure for the United Kingdom through negotiations led by Michel Barnier in the name of the Union. But the British exit is also creating a historical opportunity. When it walks away, 73 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will go with it. So the question is, what shall we do with those seats, which will be vacant in 2019? There are three options under consideration, and they are not mutually exclusive. We could eliminate these seats totally or partially, for the sake of savings. We could share them out among the remaining 27 member states, so that the number of seats becomes a better reflection of each member’s population size. Or we could also take those seats and create a Europe-wide constituency.
Italy, France and Spain support the creation of transnational candidate lists. We are proposing that some of the vacant seats should be used to create a European constituency, taking into account Europe’s political and geographical diversity.
We are proposing that some of the vacant seats left behind after Brexit should be used to create a European constituency
Each one of us is simultaneously a citizen of his or her country and a citizen of Europe. Yet our European citizenship is incomplete. It is true that we have a European Parliament that is elected through universal suffrage, and deputies who are, in theory, elected not because of their nationality but because of their political platform. It is true that a Spanish citizen can these days be elected in Italy or in France. But the way European elections and campaigns are carried out remain national in nature. European elections are currently a collection of 28 – soon to be 27 – separate and parallel debates that take place within each member state’s borders. All too frequently, European elections boil down to a vote of support or rejection of national policies, or in the best of cases, of a debate on foreign policy.
The creation of transnational candidate lists, alongside existing national or regional ones, would let the debate focus on truly European issues that affect us all, creating a veritable European forum. A society is not solely built through the legal system. Those in power do not decree what it means to be a European citizen. The peoples of Europe must live, share, experiment their diversity through exchanges between their societies. How much do we really know about the way our European neighbors perceive tomorrow’s European challenges?
Election campaigns are crucial periods of debate. Thanks to them, collective options and values crystallize within our democracies, and a common understanding about our collective assets is developed. At this time of intense debate, we must look at one another as Europeans, and listen to a Czech candidate share his vision for a social Europe, or an Italian candidate list his expectations for immigration policy, instead of sticking to often erroneous or stereotypical ideas regarding our neighbors’ thoughts. Let’s stop confining national citizens within walls and putting blinkers on them. Let’s bear our European identity together, without renouncing our national identities, and let’s develop a real European public space that is alive and united in its diversity.
The essence of the European project is democracy
French President Emmanuel Macron
Without a doubt, this reform would not alter existing balances in the short run. But when the time came, each voter would introduce an additional slip into the ballot box in order to choose among European, gender-balanced lists bringing together candidates from at least seven different nationalities. That would serve as a reminder that the European Parliament represents European interests, and not the sum of 27 different national interests. For Europeans, this would represent a real change, both practical and in terms of viewpoint.
The ties between our nations and the European construction project have become progressively looser. Europe is often viewed as distant, filled with technocrats, or run in a way that ignores the people. If there was ever a time when anyone thought it was possible to push Europe forward without taking our fellow citizens into account, that was a mistake. We have overcome that stage. It is indispensable to restore dialogue with Europe’s citizens. Our governments are committed to a re-foundation of the European project. But such an ambitious plan deserves more than simplistic, binary choices of the type: “Are you in favor or against Europe?”
We must recall, as French President Emmanuel Macron did at La Sorbonne, that “the essence of the European project is democracy.” Europe, just like democracy itself, is being accused of weakness. Both are dealing with abstention, with populist votes, and at times with a fascination for democracies that are not liberal. Yet denouncing populism is as essential as it is insufficient: we need to act. That is why we must jump on this historic opportunity afforded by Brexit and turn it into an opportunity for a profound renewal of European democracy. This renewal specifically implies creating transnational candidate lists for the 2019 European elections. This ambitious reform could be put into practice without revising EU treaties, by incorporating it into voting legislation that is already undergoing review. In truth, all that is required is political will.
Let us create a true European public space through these women and men who, above and beyond their own nationality, will embody our political desire to build European unity from diversity. Let’s dare to experience the 21st century of democracy. Let’s dare to create transnational European lists. Let’s give everyone one more ballot paper for Europe.
Sandro Gozi is Italy’s Under-Secretary for European Affairs.
Nathalie Loiseau is France’s Minister for European Affairs.
Jorge Toledo is Spain’s Secretary of State for the European Union.
English version by Susana Urra.