We sometimes hear of the ‘democratic deficit’ with reference to the European Union – and how the EU is insufficiently accountable to the voters within the 27 states. Indeed, in the UK, the only chance we get to make an EU-vote is every five years for our MEPs, and even that result is usually based on national rather than European factors.
Increasing democracy would be a revolution to the European Union, and may even improve its image within this country, so here are three suggestions to make a start.
The European President
This is an item I originally blogged about in September 2009, when such people as Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were being suggested in the new post of President of the European Council. This position fell to Herman Van Rompuy, now in his second term of office.
My argument is, when this term expires, in November 2014, it should be the voters who decide the President. This was a missed opportunity to bring the European Union closer to the people but should not be missed again. Candidates, including Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Blair if they wish, can campaign in all 27 countries – we will get to know them and their views, ask questions, just like any other election campaign, and then vote using either STV or the Supplementary Vote system. The winner will not be someone we have never heard of who has emerged from nowhere.
When I have put this argument before, people have said ‘ah, but everyone will vote for their countryman, and the Germans will always win.’ Well, I am not convinced that everyone in the UK will vote for Tony Blair, or every German for Angela Merkel.
Whatever the details, some sort of election is better than an ‘appointment’ of arguably one of the most powerful men in Europe.
The UK has one Commissioner on the European Commission, essentially the executive body of the EU. Traditionally this post has been seen as a consolation prize for failure in UK politics – hence previous holders have included Peter Mandelson, Neil Kinnock, Chris Patten and Leon Brittan.
These too could be elected by each individual state. We could have a national debate about which person would best represent us. Unfortunately, party politics being what it is, each party will probably have only one candidate and the winner will always be a Tory or Labour person – but again this is better than a system by appointment, and at least we could all name our Commissioner.
Members of the European Parliament
Each state had to select a system of PR to elect their MEPs - and the UK chose the party list system. This is the system whereby you get a huge ballot paper with lists of candidates, and you choose the ‘party’ (NB: NOT the individual), which, at the end of the day, gives you a group of MEPs of various parties. This gives enormous powers to the parties as it is they who choose the order of their respective list.
My proposal is to exchange this to the Single Transferable Vote – STV – a system which allows you to choose the individual to represent you, not the party. So instead of one X, you can give thought to placing 1-2-3 and so on, candidates of the same party will be competing against each other, individuals from different parties can be chosen, and this gives the voter complete control and flexibility.
Of course, Liberal Democrats don’t need lectures about fair voting systems – but, apart from Scotland, STV is unfamiliar to the people and an information campaign would be required. Once people have got the hang of it, it may then be possible to bring it into local council elections in England and Wales.
Using these techniques, the British voter will be able to select the individuals to serve as President, Commissioner, and their MEPs within the European Union. Other countries can do likewise. And the result will be a President, a Commission and a Parliament completely democratically chosen and regularly accountable to the voters, and people with a greater say and familiarity in the European Union's affairs.