The European Parliament debated yesterday (7 February) on possible changes to the legislation according to which the European elections are held. The next European elections will take place in May 2019 and pressure is building to change the electoral law, which has been the same since European elections were held for the first time in 1976.
Minimal change to the ‘Electoral procedures’ for holding the European elections could include a common date for holding the election (which is not the case up to now), unified logos for the political families competing, and a common threshold for a political force to be represented by MEPs. At present individual countries set up different thresholds, which many MEPs see as undemocratic.
Council should take the decision unanimously. Any changes to the European elections legislation needs to be ratified by the national parliaments.
In some countries modifications to the electoral legislation is required by constitution to take place not earlier than 12 months before the vote, meaning that there is a very short time left to amend the 42-years-old rules.
MEPs argued that the last five presidencies had done little or nothing to deliver on new procedures for holding the European elections, since in February 2005 the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents authorised the drawing up of a legislative initiative report on the reform of the electoral law of the European Union.
In November 2015 the European Parliament adopted a resolution based on the legislative initiative report prepared by the Constitutional Affairs committee (rapporteurs: Danuta Maria Hübner, EPP, Poland and Jo Leinen, S&D, Germany) on the amendment of 1976 rules [details here].
According to Article 223 of the Lisbon Treaty, the Council, acting by unanimity, should lay down the necessary provisions for electing the MEPs, based on proposals by the Parliament. However, in an opinion of March 2016, the Council legal Service (CLS) considered that the Council is not bound by the substance of the EU proposal.
Thus, the view of the CLS is that Council ‘enjoys the widest possible discretion when exercising this competence’, and ‘is not bound by the scope or object of the European Parliament’s proposal’.
Deputy minister Monika Panayotova, representing the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, said EU leaders will hold an informal summit on inter-institutional issues on 23 February, the agenda foreseeing in his words decision-making on issues such as the European Parliament composition, transnational lists, appointments, including Spitzenkandidaten.
“It is very important not to prejudge the leaders’ discussion”, Panayotova said. She said the Bulgarian Presidency has considered all options, without elaborating.
These are not issues on which it is easy to find compromise, she said, reminding that according to EU treaties, unanimity will be required among the member states.
Panayotova said two options were possible: focus efforts on topics with respect to which agreement seems most likely, or face the risk of not having any result for the upcoming EU elections. She added that the Bulgarian Presidency intended to continue with discussions, focussing on the least controversial provisions.