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European Election Dilemmas

The European Elections are approaching and we get to take a trip to our local polling station. But the turnout in the Netherlands is likely to be low and who exactly do we get to vote for? Rik de Ruiter, Associate Professor at the Institute of Public Administration, explains the two political dilemmas the European Parliament is faced with.

De Ruiter points out that the European Union’s democratic process is caught up in an impossible tightrope act for two reasons.  ‘These days, the controlling power does not only reside with the European Parliament (EP) but also with the national parliaments of the member states,’ he explains. ‘Since 2009, all legislation proposed by the European Committee does not only have to be approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament but it also has to be put to the national parliaments. The idea is that this maximises the influence citizens have on a national level since the national parliaments can jointly decide whether they believe legislation at EU level is needed. If a majority of the national parliaments gives the proposal a ‘yellow card’, it clearly means that the European Committee should review their proposal. This is the sort of compromise that makes the process even more complicated. An example of these dynamics is the proposal about the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.’ And that’s just one of many.

Members of Parliament and electoral lists

For most people, the way European Members of Parliament are elected and the alliances that are subsequently formed by the political parties make it even more complicated to understand what the European Union is all about. De Ruiter: ‘A Dutch candidate for the EP campaigns under the banner of a Dutch political party but within the EP parties form broad alliances. Which means that that MP’s voice becomes diluted since opinions within an European alliance usually differ widely. For instance, when someone votes for the Dutch progressive liberal party D66, do they really want that party working together with the more traditional liberal Dutch VVD party or a similar foreign one? The VVD is far more critical of the EU than D66 is.’

New electoral lists?

One solution could be to draw up the electoral lists based on European political parties. ‘It makes sense to take the national parties out of the mix,’ says De Ruiter, ‘but chances of that happening any time soon are very slim. Take for example a candidate of the Dutch socialist SP party who is likely to rank low on a pan-European left-wing list, which could well mean that although that party is elected to the EP, it won’t be an actual Dutch SP candidate who will be nominated to represent that left-wing party in the EP.’

Strong support for the EU remains

But it isn’t all dreary according to De Ruiter. ‘On national media such as TV, newspapers and on the internet there has been increasingly more attention for the political problems and solutions in which the EU plays a role, in one way or the other. Such as the refugee crisis, the financial crisis, and Brexit. It may be rather ‘crisis oriented’ but the interest in the EU is bigger than ever and support for European integration remains high, especially with younger people. Maybe this will be reflected in the participation rates for the EP elections in the long run, and citizens who do not want anything to do with European integration will start casting their votes, alongside citizens who are enthusiastic about European collaboration.’

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