Join me in my Twelve Stars Debate on why The European Parliament should be elected on transnational lists

by Miriam Ronzoni on July 13, 2018

Ingrid has introduced the Twelve Stars project to you several weeks ago.

Today (indeed: right now!) it is my turn to participate in the project, with a proposal (or rather the proposal to revive the old idea) to elect MEPs on transnational lists. Join me! The proposal is deliberately sketchy and balck and white – here it is (but if you can comment on the debate’s site itself!):

• European citizens feel increasingly alienated from European politics and from democratic politics more generally: they feel that it is impossible for ordinary citizens to really make an impact, to be genuinely represented, to hold elites to account. The lack of a strong response to the European sovereign debt crisis has exacerbated this.

• This is a crucial root-cause of both the generally increasing level of Euroscepticism and the rise of populist politics.

• On top of that, the only arena of direct citizen representation in the EU, namely the European Parliament, is still (perhaps wrongly) perceived as a talking shop, and European Elections are just opportunities for “showdowns” on largely domestic issues.

• Finally, and crucially, disaffection with democracy is also caused by the (largely correct) perception that citizens are constantly being asked to find doemstic solutions to problems that cut across boundaries

• Transnational lists could mobilize citizens around issues of Pan-European interest – austerity, the Eurozone governance, EU solidarity, how to manage the refugee crisis, etc.

• Some issues do not even end up “on the table” in European public discourse because the European citizens and stakeholders who care about them do not find channels to mobilize sufficient interest and momentum around them in current systems of representation. If however, we had proper, formalized electoral procedures to form alliances with like-minded actors in different member states, things might be different.

• Electoral systems are a crucial way in which the values of equality, freedom and fair representation that democrats defend are realized institutionally. With respect to the EU in particular, many theoretical discussions have gravitated around the problem of the lack of a European people which regards itself as having a common fate, and which therefore has a strong interest in settling disagreements democratically. One crucial way in which we could contribute to fostering the development of a European people is by allowing a genuine European political conversation around European elections – transnational lists would strongly help in that respect. Many conflcits on European matters cut across national borders: Some salient groups of European citizéns might have more in common, and jointly at stake, with European citizens of other countries (but of say, the similar social class) than with their felow citizens.

• Disregarding these cross-border alignments has played a big role in the rise of populism • Transnational lists could revitalize the idea of European Political Parties

• The most effective response to a crisis of democracy is…more democracy. Citizens are tempted by populism when they do not see the possibility of genuine representation. Opening new channels for effective representation is the only way to go in these cases.

• Lack of EU solidarity and democratic accountability has led to populism – the only way out of populism is to allow European citizens to engage politically with one another across borders, in a meaningful way.

• The idea has recently re-gained some political traction (see, more timidly the fielding of candidates for the Presidency of the Commission by European Parties during the last European elections, and, more ambitiously, the Democracy in Europe Movement or DiEM2025)




John Quiggin 07.14.18 at 6:27 am

I commented on the site, but the process was a bit clunky (the discussion is hosted on reddit), so here’s my comment, for what it’s worth

In terms of mechanics, would it work to create a number of Europe-wide seats to be filled by PR, and then allow everyone a vote for these seats as well as for national-level constituencies? Eurosceptics could abstain from the Europe wide election if they wanted to.


Miriam Ronzoni 07.14.18 at 8:41 am

Hi John thanks, the live phase was over by then, will reply in a bit, both here and there


Miriam Ronzoni 07.14.18 at 8:57 am

So a mixed model, what would be the advantage in your view John?


nastywoman 07.14.18 at 10:13 am

Hoping very much that the European Parliament one day will be elected on transnational lists – and even further that for us Europeans the so called ”national” identities become irrelevant – like for everybody who already is a ”transnational” or even a ”trans… whatever” as how did our role model -(about this issue) Obama once call himself? – a mutt?

So hoping very much that European Parliament one day will be elected on ”trans-lists” and for sure – the major experts on this issue – on CT -(like Mario – Chris (merian) W – TM – Faustus – Dipper and aaall the other experts on this issue) will post the hundred of comments this issue truly deserves?

As aren’t we ALL at least Europeans ”in mind”?
-(even our American and Australian friends?)


nastywoman 07.14.18 at 10:25 am

– and to comment a bit more ”serious” –
the last time all of these ”issues” came up -(of some… ”people” in ”Urp” really – really trying to overcome some… ”things” – which made something like a ”Brexit” possible) – there were all this comments which read like:

My god – how… how… ”pony”?
-(refering to some ”ponies” supposedly somebody like Bernie tried to offer)

So – for all you dudes out there – who think like that – an thusly are hesitating to… ”chip in”

Come on guys!! – we already have our ”trans…whateverbuddy in the utmost ”trans-city” of this world – London who gladly will let any Baloon fly.

Let’s fly aloooong…


John Quiggin 07.14.18 at 10:31 am

Constituency based representation has a lot of appeal, but doesn’t accurately reflect opinion. PR has the opposite problem. So, I like mixed systems like NZ in general. In the EU context, it seems much easier to add some ‘at large’ seats than to take away existing representation,


dax 07.14.18 at 9:42 pm

“European citizens feel increasingly alienated from European politics and from democratic politics more generally”

I don’t, and I’m European. Perhaps the quantifier “some” might be useful here, so that “all” is not understood?


John Quiggin 07.15.18 at 7:13 am

Another idea would be to directly elect the President of the EU Parliament. A directly elected President would have much more independent legitimacy than the holder of the current position, basically a nonentity. And, obviously, it would imply an EU-wide vote, which would (hopefully) divide on ideological rather than national lines.


nastywoman 07.15.18 at 8:16 am

”I don’t, and I’m European”.

Me Too – feel never alienated from European politics and from democratic politics more generally”.
-(even that I’m 1/32 American Indian)

And as I slowly had it – the silly and stupid badmouthing of everything ”European” – but my fellow Americans -(or any other silly Anglo-Saxon) – I would suggest for the Twelve star project to go a lot more less ”self-critical” into this battle against a lot of nationalistic creeps.

Do it the Von Clownstick way! – EUROPE FIRST!!
Nothing –
NADA! beats European Democrats -(Social-Democrats – Greens – and Socialists) in caring for ”their People” – and especially not a Bunch of Anglo-Saxon Rapture Capitalists who think ”the dough” – and ”the greed” is great!

So please my fellow Americans – don’t be Trumps – jealous an mad – that Europe has the ”Loving our working people-societies” – join in and work on it that US will have it soon too!


harry b 07.15.18 at 1:09 pm

I’m quite enthusiastic about the idea, though I probably prefer it with John’s modification. — adding some ‘at large’ seats. I hadn’t thought about a directly elected President of the parliament, though my immediate reaction to that is i) that its a political non-starter and ii) that elected Presidents are problematic because they reduce the power and legitimacy of parliaments (unless their constitutional powers are very carefully restricted).

There is one thing that I am curious about — if we adopted transnational lists what would the nationalist right do? Would each nationalist right party create its own (short) list and fight within its country? Or would we see transnational nationalist lists? Worth adopting it just to find out!


Akshay 07.15.18 at 6:39 pm

Transnational lists would be a good idea. People could vote on European issues deciding between European groupings, rather than treating EU elections as an opinion poll about the current national government. We might get rid of odd but powerful alliances such as the EPP, and have more sensible groupings in the EP. However, this would also require:

1) that people understand which issues are at stake at the EU rather than national level. In my non-federal country of the Netherlands, this is clearly tough even for internal elections. Provincial elections have very low turnout and are basically an opinion poll on the national government, just like EU elections. Municipal elections are a combination of genuine local issues and an opportunity to kick the national government. My (non-data driven) sense is that federal states like Germany and Belgium are much better in explaining to citizens the concept of multi-level government.

Anyway, this means that (2) if we want EU elections to be more meaningful, the EU needs a set of legislative powers (‘competences’) which make sense and are easily understood. Because the EU is under construction, this is currently not the case. I think there are strong arguments the EU needs more capability on migration, foreign policy, defence, and macro-economic stabilisation. However, how to actually do this is much more controversial.

In this respect, I am not quite convinced by the post. The EP, and even the EU as a whole, simply does not have sufficient legislative powers to make an impact on many transnational issues people are concerned by. It is member states who are in charge of budgets. (Yes, even Greece, which only needed to dance to other people’s tunes because they ended up needing other people’s money. Those other people had full control over their own budgets, irrespective of what the EP, Commission, or other States thought about how they should spend it). This is even more so the case for foreign policy and defence. Even on migration, you national vote will have a much bigger impact than your EU election vote. The EP’s main powers are as a market regulator. Important, but abstract.

If we create expectations that the EP can do things it can’t, we simply set people up for disappointment. –> For the major issues, what is required is transnational cooperation to change national positions in EU negotiations, not transnational cooperation to change the opinions of EP political groupings.

3) In the long run, I would certainly prefer an EU with a stronger element of representative democracy, based on political/ideological debate, and a reduced role for inter-state power politics. But more power to the EP and its Parties implies less powers for the States: hardly something they will accept unless the EP has much more support and legitimacy. And the current trend of rising nationalism is more likely to empower the States further. Good for big States, but, I suspect, less so for the others


Chris (merian) W. 07.16.18 at 5:34 am

Thanks for this topic, and particularly bullet points 1, 3 and 4! This is something I favour (for context, I have voted in EP elections as an EU citizen resident of Germany, France and the UK).

There are implementation issues, though. Looking at it from the perspective of the voting citizen, there’s a wide disparity of how citizens are used to elect representatives, and I think it is important to start with the expectations that citizens already have and build from them. (On a sidenote, I was living in France when the EU constitutional treaty referendum took place and failed, and while there were a lot of arguments against it, one that resonated in France across a lot of party lines was this: “We know what a constitution looks like, and it’s not an x-thousand page text of unpenetrable legalese. We know how a constitution is made, and it is by a constitutional assembly.”) Right now, each country can decide on its own how their MEPs are elected, which of course leads to the by-nation splintering, but also has a kernel of recognition of a truth. So to get somewhere transnational there need to be stages.

A simple first stage could be labeling: Without any other change, lists/candidates would have to run under their EP party/group label instead of their national party label. This alone would make it easier to recognize that, for example, by voting for list/candidate X on my ballot, I’d also be voting for that brilliant Italian woman/ horrible Dutchman who is running under the same label. It would also make these alliances more visible and enable citizens to badger their national/regional parties about them, if necessary.

Second, being German I grew up with a hybrid system of electing the legislature, and have come away from it with the impression that it’s workable and has advantages. But usually “hybrid” means regional, state-wide (in federal republics) or national lists plus *local* candidates. Here you’d want to do *supranational* or even EU-wide candidates. There are lots of parameters to play with!

Third, on the Chatch-22 issue that afflicts the EU parliament: you won’t get more legitimizing engagement until it has more democratic power, but you won’t get more power until it is a parliament that is perceived as more legitimate. I’d have to look into what was done since I last really looked into it,15 years ago. The powers of the EU parliament really need to increase.

(Another side note: Ian Rankin, in his Edinburgh-based murder mysteries, has his detective John Rebus investigate a crime set in the then-new Scottish Parliament. I forgot the plot, but there’s some degree of corruption of politicians etc. At one point, Rebus meets with an elected representative, who chides him about not appearing to have any enthusiasm about devolution and the democratic process in general. Rebus’s answer is that as a citizen, he doesn’t even know if, in case he has a problem, he should take it to his MP, MEP or MSP. While in the book this is partly facetious — Rebus is hardly a model citizen as his democratic engagement goes — this is a fair question. A politician should have an answer to it, just like they should have an answer to “What would you/your party do for someone in my socio-economic and geographic situation? Honest, clear answers to these would do quite a bit to stem the disengagement, IMHO.)

Last, can we stop complaining about “[people of group X] experience [problem/phenomenon Y]? It doesn”t know “all X have to deal with Y” or even “most X …”. Like, if you hear “women in life situation Z increasingly experience unemployment”, then “but I am a woman in life situation Z and am employed!” is neither a counterargument nor relevant.


MFB 07.16.18 at 8:00 am

Europe is not a nation-state. There are big divisions between the countries within it. Hence, a transnational political party would not be able to respond equally in different countries to the same issue. Either it would have to be dishonest (big surprise there, UI know) or else it would have to accept that in some countries it would enjoy very limited support.

This raises questions about how democratic the proposal (which contains no hard details) actually is.

Also, is it not extremely likely that small countries would find their local votes for the transnational party getting swamped by the votes from larger and more powerful countries? In which case the effect would be more, not less, disillusion with the democratic process as applied in Europe.

On very clear and specific issues, I can imagine that a transnational party might — for a period — be meritorious. But on such issues, I can also imagine that domestically-elected parties would be able to cooperate with each other across national borders. Wouldn’t that be a better start on Europe-wide political activity, rather than enforcing a transnational vote which could easily lead to a more opaque system if nobody except the central authority was able to call the elected representatives to account?


Miriam Ronzoni 07.16.18 at 9:13 am

John and Harry B: could you unpack a bit more the reasons for favouring a mixed model?

Akshay: with respect to 1, I think actually having transnational lists could contribute to making that change, because transnationl lists would run campaigns of different, EU-wide based manifestos, presumably. And of course someone who endorses transational lists is more likely to be in favour of more legislative power to the European Parliament. But I also think that the Parliament is already, after the last round of constitutional reform, more powerful than people acknolwedge . We have the European Working Time Directive thanks to the Parliament. Again, I think transnational lists could draw the attention to the fact taht there are soem things taht teh Parliament can actually do.


natywoman 07.16.18 at 9:49 am

”I think transnational lists could draw the attention to the fact taht there are soem things taht teh Parliament can actually do”.

And more important – transnational lists could draw the attention to the fact – that any narrow minded ”nationalistic policies” in Europe are as damaging to the ”currency” -(as a parable for ”value”) to any ”nationalistic narrow minded nation” .


Dipper 07.16.18 at 12:16 pm

@ Miriam

“But I also think that the Parliament is already, after the last round of constitutional reform, more powerful than people acknowledge .”

Thanks for posting this Miriam. I am a UK leaver, I would just point out that we’ve had over two years of Pro-EU Remainers telling us that the UK parliament was sovereign and the EU Parliament was not important, so nice to see confirmed here that the European Parliament is becoming the pre-eminent representative institution across the whole of the EU.

I generally didn’t vote in European elections because the electoral system took my vote and gave it to political parties to decide amongst themselves what to do with it. This means that the elected representatives first loyalty is to the parties that put them on the list, not the electors who voted for them. And yes I know that’s how UK parliamentary elections work but we can see in the current debates going on in the UK that the link between representative and constituency is the primary one transcending party loyalty in many cases (e.g.Greg Hands)

The way I’d like my vote to count in Europe is for my elected representative in the UK parliament, through the government they install, to have productive conversations with elected representatives from Europe.

Finally, enthusiastic young people advocating strongly for pan-European movements. Hmm, where have we seen that before? Of course those guys were the bad guys, and you guys are the good guys. As if any group of people, anywhere, at any time, has ever thought of themselves as the bad guys.


Z 07.16.18 at 12:57 pm

Transnational lists is a good idea that faces many challenge, some institutional (to begin with, it seems to be in direct contradiction to the treaty-instituted repartition of MEP in rough proportion to the population of each state). However, the greatest democratic challenge faced by the EU is not in its institutional forms, but in the fact that citizens of the European Union do not form a public in the deweyan sense. This is clearly seen in the post already, as “austerity, the Eurozone governance, EU solidarity, how to manage the refugee crisis” are all issues which are largely or even entirely outside of the scope of the European parliament or even the Commission, so whatever the putative results of elections with transnational lists, they wouldn’t significantly affect policy choices about these topics. Even a complete overhaul of the institutional framework of the EU, say one that would make it democratic in the usual sense (an idea that has little political support, to be moderate), would seem to me insignificant compared to the gap between the political representations of the different polities of the EU. In particular, when I read “many theoretical discussions have gravitated around the problem of the lack of a European people which regards itself as having a common fate”, I cannot help but wonder about the connection between these theoretical discussions and reality. The reality of today’s Europe is that even people in century-old nation states and that have shared decades of common democratic practices, a language etc. do not regard themselves as “having a common fate” and show little “interest in settling disagreements democratically” (Scots and Englishmen, Catalans and Castillans, Walloons and Flemish, urban educated citizens and rural uneducated citizens everywhere…). The continued political unity of many of the states forming the EU is already unclear. The question of the political unity of the whole consequently seems to me premature, to say the least.

Harry B There is one thing that I am curious about — if we adopted transnational lists what would the nationalist right do?

In fairness, I don’t think the problem is especially acute for the nationalist right. Parties in this movement all agree that Islam sucks and that migrants should be kept outside, and that’s two major issues (for them) on which they are in perfect agreement across Europe. Honestly, not many other political tendencies (center-right, christian democracy, social democracy, center-left, Greens, socialist left, neoliberalism, autonomists…) can say the same about any of their major issues (well, there might be broad agreement in a large part of the political spectrum across Europe on lower corporate and capital taxes compensated by the privatization of the public sector, but I don’t think they can quite run explicitly on this). So I don’t see that it would be that much harder (or much easier) for True Finns, Austria’s FPÖ, the Lega and Denmark’s DPP to agree on a common platform than for France’s LR (or LREM), Germany’s CDU/CSU and Spain’s PP to do the same.


harry b 07.16.18 at 5:03 pm

The advantage of the mixed model is that it retains some amount of constituency connection. Under a constituency based model: i) I know who my representative is, so know who to complain to about local matters; and ii) the representative has a special knowledge of a particular district (and thus, every district has someone in the parliament who has special knowledge of it); iii) every parliamentary group is composed of people with some special connection to particular place. Under a pure transnational list system many areas may not get that sort of representation. This is a general problem for pure list systems (which are the best at getting real PR). Doesn’t Germany have a mixed system?


otpup 07.17.18 at 2:00 am

I think the comparative politics data is clear. At large elections and PR tend toward multi-party electoral systems, which in turn are good for democracy and the Left. Federalism and single member districts and powerful executives, bad for the same reason.


nastywoman 07.17.18 at 5:42 am

”Parties in this movement all agree that Islam sucks and that migrants should be kept outside, and that’s two major issues (for them) on which they are in perfect agreement across Europe. Honestly, not many other political tendencies (center-right, christian democracy, social democracy, center-left, Greens, socialist left, neoliberalism, autonomists…) can say the same about any of their major issues”.

Yes they can – as parties in these movement all agree that narrow-minded nationalism… ”sucks”!
And if the ”major issue” – in and of Europe is – to be ”Pro European” -(and it ”sucks” NOT to be pro European) the Parties you mentioned agree there too…

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