Shouldn’t we rethink how we elect MEPs?

Shouldn’t we rethink how we elect MEPs?

The reason why the custom of voting for candidates as we do in national elections instead of political parties and their fixed, and ranked, list of nominees for the European Parliament did not stem from a matter of principle, from a desire to give the people the right to choose their representatives. It was, rather, the result of the leadership of PASOK and the socialist party’s so-called “group of 58” influential renegades being unable to agree on who would make up the list of nominees.

In order to overcome this impasse, the New Democracy-PASOK coalition government headed by Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos, respectively, instituted the practice of voting for individual party candidates for MEPs. What was a practice that most people regarded as addressing a specific circumstance ended up becoming the norm. Why? 

Making voters pick their MEPs is a painless and convenient solution for party leaders

The excuse that was invented after the fact was – and still is – that it motivates candidates, increases interest in the election, and therefore spurs turnout for a vote that tends not to excite citizens as much as a national race.

But if we look behind the veil of this thin argument, we see that the practice absolves the leaderships of every political party from the onus of having to choose MEP nominees. It frees them from the pressure of having to accommodate “friends” or letting others down, and from being subjected to criticism if things go wrong. In short, it transfers responsibility onto the citizens.

Let’s face it: Making voters pick their MEPs is a painless and convenient solution for party leaders and this is why it has stayed put for a decade despite its glaring disadvantages.

The work of the Euro MP requires a certain amount of knowledge, a certain culture and, above all else, an awareness of the post’s duties and responsibilities. Having to choose candidates would, therefore, saddle party leaders with the arduous task of having to evaluate potential nominees, a process that they would best avoid for the reasons mentioned above.

I recently went back and looked at the quality of the candidates put forward for the European Parliament by all the parties back in the 1980s and 90s, when there was no preferential vote. Sometimes the solution does lie in the tried and tested recipes of yesterday.

This makes me wonder, therefore, why the leaderships of New Democracy and PASOK – two parties with an unquestionable pro-European orientation – fail to see the obvious benefits of going back to the old list, and even more so now when the argument of increased voter interest holds no water. How could it, with an abstention rate of 58%? But even if, hypothetically, people voted in greater numbers, which way would the scales tip if you weighed turnout against the benefits of having a better standard of representation in the European House?

Higher turnout is a momentary thing, whereas representation by able people is something that lasts five years. So, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the prime minister to bring back the party list of MEPs for the next European election? 

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