Written by Wilhelm Lehmann,
On 7 December, the European Parliament and the European University Institute held a joint history roundtable on the occasion of the 40 year anniversary of the 1976 Electoral Act, which introduced direct elections to the European Parliament. The event, organised by the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, took place in Florence, with a video link to Brussels enabling Jo Leinen, rapporteur for the Constitutional Affairs Committee on electoral reform to participate, along with EPRS Director-General Anthony Teasdale, and Monika Nogaj, who previously worked on the European Added Value Assessment of the Leinen/Hübner report. The conference was chaired by Federico Romero, Professor at the History Department of the European University Institute and co-director of its Alcide de Gasperi Research Centre on the History of European Integration.
From Brussels, Jo Leinen presented the parliamentary resolution on the reform of the Electoral Act (co-rapporteur Danuta Hübner). The proposal, currently under examination by the Council of Ministers, introduces several procedural changes designed to strengthen the European dimension of EU elections, to enhance transparency, and to improve gender equality. Following an off-the-cuff speech by Professor Ulrike Guérot from the University of Krems, speakers presented different views on how to rethink parliamentary elections as a fundamental democratic tool for the European Union.
To frame the terms of the subsequent debate, Olivier Costa, Professor of Political Science at Bruges and Bordeaux, presented the main findings of his study The history of European electoral reform and the Electoral Act 1976, published by the Historical Archives of the European Parliament. Professor Costa analysed the impact which direct elections had on the parliamentarisation and constitutionalisation of the EU institutional system and explained their great contribution to enhancing the politicisation of EU debates and policy-making. Professor Wilfried Loth from the University of Duisburg-Essen complemented this presentation with a historical account of the circumstances which led to the signature of the Act.
During the debate, a number of controversial issues were addressed, such as the creation of a transnational electoral constituency; streamlining of electoral procedures across Member States; and increasing European political parties’ visibility. Andrew Duff, former member of the European Convention and an important proponent of electoral reform during his 15 years in the European Parliament, made some critical comments on current reform proposals and underlined the need for bolder reform steps, such as reform of the selection procedures for European election candidates. Other speakers and discussants touched upon the role of the media in European electoral campaigns, the shortcomings of the current European party system and the role of national parliaments. In her concluding comments, Professor Brigid Laffan, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre, stressed that, in the light of current disintegration tendencies, rising euroscepticism, and diffuse political instability, the politicisation of European governance had positive effects on European democracy, but also carried major risks, such as the radicalisation of eurosceptic political forces.