National voter disenfranchisement can’t be solved with transnational democracy

In recent piece for Politico Europe, Italian Jean Monnet professor Alberto Alemanno backs down on the (already dead) idea of transnational lists for European elections. According to him, current problems of European democracy can be solved through more internationalised elections. He’s very wrong.

What people want

In Pew polling from last year, favorability ratings of the EU were 74% in Poland, 68% in Germany, 56% in France, with only 34% in Greece. A majority of respondents in almost all EU member states backed the idea of allowing a referendum on their membership in the union. Respondents also believed that the EU should not govern migration or trade policy. The Brexit referendum further demonstrated  that most voters based their decision on the idea that laws regarding the United Kingdom should be made within the UK. This, at least, is what polls have indicated as the primary reason for the decision, above immigration and the fear of further EU integration. In a sense, Europeans seem to increasingly agree with the analysis of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who, in his speech in Strasbourg on the future of Europe, said that he believes the union should do less, and clearly focus on the things it wants to do right. This idea of limiting the scope of Brussels’ powers doesn’t sit well with EU federalists or those who believe in ever-closer union.

It is hard to imagine that there is any country in which the idea of increased European integration, larger budgets, and higher offices will get any significant support. The recent elections in Italy are just another bump in the road for those who believe this will change any time soon. In fact, the Italian experience has engendered  a key change in strategy of the European Union. When David Cameron came to Brussels prior to the Brexit referendum requesting concessions on immigration, the refusal to find any type of noteworthy agreements swayed the decision to leave the European Union. Fearful of a similar event in Italy, member states have given in to immigration concessions demanded by Italy and Austria (and to a lesser extent, Germany, following the start of its coalition chaos). It would seem the message is clear: in order to maintain your project, sometimes you actually have to give in.

That, of course, is not the essence of Alberto Alemanno’s piece in Politico. He writes:

“Transnational parties are the fertilizer for a truly European polity. Next year’s election could mark a turning point, the moment when the first genuinely European political competition paved the way for a genuinely European transnational democracy.”

The idea brought forward by French president Emmanuel Macron–ultimately  struck down in an early stage of consideration–was to replace the seats in the European Parliament vacated by British MEPs with cross-country lists. In essence, this would mean that one ballot would be reserved for candidates that could be voted on by all EU citizens. For Macron, this was nothing more than a political gamble through which he hoped to break up the classic stronghold of the European political parties, notably that of the European People’s Party and the European Socialists&Progressives.

This doesn’t seem to be aim of Alemanno, who claims that: “For one, it impedes the emergence of pan-European public opinion.” A pan-European public opinion? It’s mind-boggling to expect a pan-European public opinion, when we’re already struggling to establish a pan-Belgian or pan-Greek opinion. In order to have a group of people demand action to be taken in their area, as an entity, they need to recognise that they are part of that entity to begin with. For that to be determined, given the current political climate, we’d first have to organise referenda in each member state, to see if membership of this political union is actually desired.

We can’t just internationalise all the things

The essence of the call for transnational lists, provided  it’s not politically motivated, is this: if people don’t agree with things being done on an international level, we’ll just have them vote internationally! As a result, citizens will be told that because they now  also voted internationally, they have consented to further integration, and that it would be hypocritical to vote for parties promising more national involvement on a transnational list. These lists are automatic confirmation bias, because the existence of the system itself is a political statement. Similarly, making Scottish nationalists vote for the Westminster parliament does not advance their cause one bit.

Internationalising institutions does not make them more legitimate. Internationalising elections does not make them more representative. Internationalising decision-making, when nobody asked for that to be done, does not make a problem-free continuation of the European project more likely.


This article was first published by Values4Europe.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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