“As politicians we have to react to the fact that many people do not feel that they can relate to the EU.” Angela Merkel
For 52 per cent of Germany’s population a strong, democratic co-termination is the most crucial element of a European identity (Aktion Europa) but when we observe the European Union or more specifically the European parliament, the question occurs if the EU is suffering from a democratic deficit and if the directly elected Parliament is able to abolish this deficit. The aim of the essay is to discuss that question.
In the first part of it I will try to outline some general facts about the direct elections. The second part will be dedicated to the most recent election which was held in June 2009. The third part will deal with the development of the European parliament from an indirect to a direct from of representation. The question if the EU Parliament is an appropriate instrument to abolish the democratic deficit will be the subject of the fourth part and in the last part I will try to discuss more detailed if the European Parliament, as the only directly elected institution of the European Union, can represent a way out of the misery of the democratic deficit.
The Elections of the European Parliament take place every five years. In the 2009 election around 375 Million people were called to vote their MEPs.
There is no such thing as a common, European, electoral law. The individual member states choose their own regulations. Therefore it is possible that Austrian’s teenagers at the age of 16 are allowed to vote while in other member states one has to be 18 to gain the right to vote. Apart from the voting age also the age, when people are able to be elected, can vary from member state to member state. For example in many member states it is approved that European citizens can get elected as a Member of the European Parliament at the age of 18, while in Greece, Italy and Cypress one must be at least 25 years to be able to get elected. Thus the reproach occurs quite often that the elections of the European Parliament may be general and free but not equal due to the different election regulations among the member states. Hence the EP has been instructed to make a draft for general, direct elections, either following a unitary procedure in all member states or common principles (Bundeszentale für politische Bildung 2009)
Although the EU council and the parliament have not agreed on a common electoral law yet, principals were elaborated to harmonise the electoral process for the EP’s election. As a consequence of that the MEPs are elected by proportional representation in all member states since 1999.
Every member state can allow preference votes and determine a certain percentage, which is necessary to enter the parliament. Nevertheless this percentage must not be higher than 5 per cent of the votes. In Austria, for example, a party has to reach 4 per cent, which is similar to the regulation for the national elections. (Europäisches Parlament – Informationsbüro für Österreich 2009)
Most regulations of the voting and the election, like voting dates or the amount of constituencies, are still determined by national rules. The majority of EU’s members (like Austria) has decided for one single constituency, while others have several ones. One can surely claim that in the long run the EP targets a common constituency for all member states of the European Union.