TAXI: Europa

What if #Brexit, that supposedly fatal – for the EU – event, were to eventually help an old Eurofederalist dream to become true? It is now more than 70 years that European Federalist groups and associations ask for a Parliament elected by all Europeans on European lists.

Pse play Vous êtes lents (A.Souchon – 1985 – 3’.15’) whilst reading this post https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyRRReWtU1M.

I first voted aged 21, for the second European elections of 1984. Strange for a student already politicised in school debates and at the JEF, the Young Euro-federalists[1]. True, I could have voted before in national elections, but Italy did not allow distance voting for its expats and I was too busy with my studies in Belgium. But natural for a Eurobrat who fell in the European potion aged 1 month.

Yet I was frustrated by having to vote for candidates I could never meet or hear, only read in Italian press or TV interviews. And the campaign said little on European themes… I eventually voted for Jiri Pelikan, just to promote a non-national candidate and as a premium for his role in the Prague ’68 upsurge. It is since that period that I longed for a true European college, one where all European candidates could compete, using their political and linguistic skills, for the votes of all Europeans.

The European College – a personal history

In 1989, for the next EP elections, I was in Montpellier, France, one of the first beneficiaries of EU grants for doing Ph.Ds abroad[2]. There, I could not vote, as – moving between France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands for my Ph.D. – I had kept my residence in Belgium. Yet I joined and campaigned for the first transnational European party “Initiative for a Democracy in Europe” (IDE-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RgIny8RiBw). Founded by Franck Biancheri and his pals at the European Students’ Forum or AEGEE[3], I do not remember who signalled it to me, but it was as Secretary of the EU grantees network (mainly a mailing list with exchange of prehistoric e-mails) that I gathered support for the party. It campaigned for a single European college for all MEPs. On the wave of European ideals and the recent Erasmus programme for which Franck, AEGEE and the grantees network had campaigned, it got some 500.000 thousand votes in 6 or 7 countries[4], mostly from students.

I met Franck Biancheri and his long-time friend (and partner in the IDE idea) Christophe Leclercq only 10 years later. It was in Brussels, in a meeting gathering several leaders of EU minded associations organised by Waddah Saab – one of the best campaigner and social organiser I know. There, we all met Laurent Ledoux and the four of us started “Europe 2020”, a think-tank aiming at influencing the development of the European Community for a more democratic governance, a common foreign policy and answers to the coming global crisis (the one following the fall Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999)[5]. We adopted in Athens the ‘14 Agora principles’ to be submitted to all candidates for the 1999 European Elections[6],[7]. Again, the creation of a single European Electoral College was in the top position. It was endorsed or taken up in their programme by several candidates, many of which were elected[8], but none of them took it up after the elections.

In 2009, in what seems to be a decennial rhythm, Franck Biancheri had a last try at pan-European electoral parties. He had launched in 2004 the Newropeans network[9] informing old and new citizens of the enlarged European Union of their rights and duties. After a marathon of democracy, with more than 100 meetings, mostly in the more recent EU Member States, he was convinced he could do better that in 1999. But, blocked by national electoral rules and incumbent parties which allowed the Newropeans transnational party to only run in France, Germany and the Netherlands, they gathered only some 37.000 votes.

The European College – the official history

In the meantime, my Eurofederalist pals kept working at their ideal of an EP where all members would be elected on European lists. In the EP itself, several members formed the Spinelli group[10], gathering Eurofederalists who wanted to inject a federalist momentum into the political decisions and policies of the European Union. They proposed that 25 MEPs (Members of the EP) should be elected in a Single Electoral College. Andrew Duff, a Liberal British MEP developed this idea, which was adopted in the EP institutional committee, but was eventually withdrawn before a vote in plenary, when he saw this would not be voted in plenary[11]. Andrew Duff then became President of the UEF in 2011 and championed the idea across all parties.

In the last European Elections, in 2014, Eurofederalist German MEPs Jo Leinen and Martin Schulz launched the so-called “Spitzenkandidaten”[12] process, whereby European Parties (not transnational, but Groups[13] of national ones) would propose (or elect as the Greens did) a main candidate who would campaign across Europe for their common programme. She would eventually be proposed by the Group which had most votes as the President of the European Commission. Although pissed by what they saw as a power grab, Member State leaders had to follow and could only endorse – not nominate in corridor talks, as they used to do – Jean-Claude Juncker, after he campaigned in the entire EU. This is as close as Europe got to a European election to date.

Called “Baby-thatcher” for his pro-liberal views, Guy Verhofstadt appears as an unlikely Eurofederalist, but he was the youngest ever Belgian prime-minister and had time to mature his political views. He was one of the founders of the Spinelli group, currently chairs the EP Liberal Group (ALDE), is a key member of the EP Institutional Committee and will lead the EP in following the Brexit negotiations eventually approving the resulting institutional consequences. In his first draft of the Report[14] on Brexit, published in May 2016, he welcomed the Spitzenkandidaten process “but proposes, therefore, following its legislative proposal on the reform of the electoral law of the European Union, empowering the electorate by giving them two votes, one for the national or regional lists and a second one for the European party lists”.

 

The European College – the campaign

At the end of this year, raging against the increasing success of Eurosceptic, populist and/or nationalist politicians or campaigns such as the one for Brexit, my wife and I decided to “do something”. I started reading and drafting papers, discussing them with my spouse, friends and colleagues. On 3rd December we both joined a meeting, celebrating the fusion of Stand Up for Europe (an interesting movement we followed on Facebook), the European Federal Party (which stood as a trans-national party in the 2014 elections) and Unites States of Europe – Now. There, a crowdsourcing event led by Roland Vaxelaire gathered ideas that might unite (be shared by) the many European Federal parties/organisations AND mobilise European citizens.

It is there, that I was struck by the possibility of turning the Brexit crisis into an opportunity. I proposed to add to the “old” idea of the Electoral College, the opportunity provided by Brexit of “snatching” the 73 UK MEPs foreseen in the current EU Lisbon Treaty for that college. I proposed a slogan echoing past universal voting campaigns #1Man2Votes. The proposal found echo in Roland who took it up for discussion with participants in the meeting. It was then discussed over lunch with leaders of the now united Party – which all endorsed it.

I then joined meetings of the European and Belgian section of the Union of European Federalists who developed a campaign aiming at supporting the Verhofstadt report – adding the switch of the UK MEPs to real European ones, elected on transnational lists, in a single college by some 400 million European voters. It would allow each European voter to choose a true European candidate, not only those proposed by its national parties – campaigning mostly on topical national issues. This might allow campaigns stretching more than one country and possibly favour the emergence of European parties.

Andrew Duff & Giorgio Clarotti
On 19 December 2016, I present the #1Head2Votes campaign to Andrew DUFF (ALDE, UK), the former President of the UEF. He gave us the go ahead saying it would revive his proposal of 2011.

This proposal would be supported by all/most federalist movements and parties as an objective for the 2019 European Parliament election. Brexit offers an opportunity to recycle the 73 UK MEPs (foreseen in the Lisbon treaty) for the EU Electoral College, instead of starting a quarrel amongst nations to distribute these posts amongst the 27 Member States. On 19 December, leaders of the sections and me tested the idea at the full UEF Christmas Party with the Union leader, Paolo Vacca, and – most importantly for me – with one of the best experts of the idea, Andrew Duff. He thought it “brilliant” and fully endorsed it.

By the end of the party even the new “Captain Europe” had endorsed the idea and many toasted to the launch of the #1Man2Votes campaign.

Toast to #1Head2Votes with Captain Europa
Secretary General of the UEF Belgian Section Domenico Rossetti, Andrew Duff (ALDE, UK) and Captain Europe toast to the #1Head2Votes campaign on 19/12/16.

After the party, during the night, a flurry exchange of e-mails and WhatsApp posts finalised the press release which was issued by the Belgian UEF section on the following morning. We aimed at making some news and gathering some echo in what was foreseen to be a “silly” week for European affairs, with all MEPs already on winter break and the Commission winding down. Unfortunately for Europe that night a lone-takfir[15] ploughed through Berlin’s WeihnachtsMarkt and a Turkish policeman murdered the Russian Ambassador, also reducing coverage of our release to zero.

But the campaign lives on. The 2016 events seem to have spurred the European idea(l) in many countries, including UK. Next stop: the election of the European Parliament President, in the week of 16 January 2017. For the first time since the EP is elected, this promises to be a true election, with European Groups having all nominated their candidates who will compete for the votes of the 751 MEPs. Electoral law is one of the few issues on which the EP has the right of initiative and we will challenge all candidates to campaign for or reject the #1Head2Votes proposal. I hope Guy Verhofstadt will eventually run, as asked to by his party, so he can champion this old idea, made new thanks to Brexit.

What a nice pun would it be, that thanks to his campaign for Brexit, Nigel Farage is eventually replaced by a true European MEP, don’t you think fellow Eurofederalists?

EFP members in 2016
The members of the European Federalist Party – see you in Rome on 25th March and, then,in 2019?

[1] More info on JEF – the French acronym of Young European Federalists, founded in 1972, when UK was still not a member and English not an EU language @ https://www.jef.eu/home/ & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_European_Federalists

[2] The scheme now known as the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grants. More @ http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/marie-sklodowska-curie-actions

[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_des_%C3%89tats_G%C3%A9n%C3%A9raux_des_%C3%89tudiants_de_l%27Europe – established in 1985, represents all European students’ associations.

[4] I could not find data on this figure. Any reader having them is welcome to correct me.

[5] https://www.europe2020.org/ Archived.

[6] http://www.euractiv.com/section/future-eu/opinion/vision-europe-2020/ – See principle Nr.4.

[7] https://www.franck-biancheri.eu/reinventing-europe-launch-of-the-project-europe-2020-franck-biancheri-athens-may-1998/ for the speech Franck gave in Athens.

[8] From my notes of the time, of the elected MEPs, we contacted Paul Rübig (EPP,AT), Philippe Busquin (PS, BE), Helle Thorning-Schmidt (PS, DK), Heidi Hautala (Green, SF), Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Green, FR), Michel Rocard (PS, FR), Elmar Brock (EPP, DE), Reimer Böge (EPP, DE), Jo Leinen (PS, DE), Erika Mann (PS, DE), Konstantinos Hatzidakis (EPP, HE), Anna Karamanou (PS, HE), Pat Cox (ELDR, EI), Proinsias De Rossa (PS,EI), Emma Bonino (NI-Radicali, IT), Jas Gawronski (EP, IT), Reinhold Messner (Green, IT), Charles Goerens (ELDR, Lux), Ellie Plooij (ELDR, NL), Wim van Velzen (EPP, NL), Mario Soares (PS, PT), Enrique Baron Crespo (PS, ES), Barbara Dürkhop (PS, ES), Charlotte Cederschiold (EPP, SE), Nick Clegg (ELDR, UK), Richard Corbett (PS, UK), Andrew Duff (ELDR, UK), Malcolm Harbour (EPP, UK), Claude Moraes (PS, UK), Graham Watson (ELDR, UK).

[9] http://www.newropeans.eu/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newropeans.

[10] http://www.spinelligroup.eu/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinelli_Group

[11] Mahony, Honor (7 July 2011) MEPs put off controversial electoral reform, EU Observer)

[12] http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=Spitzenkandidat

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_groups_of_the_European_Parliament

[14] Report 2014/2248(INI), §37, page 12 : “Welcomes the successful new procedure whereby European political parties promote their top candidates for the President of the European executive, but believes that they should be able to stand during the next elections as official candidates in all Member States; proposes, therefore, following its legislative proposal on the reform of the electoral law of the European Union, empowering the electorate by giving them two votes, one for the national or regional lists and a second one for the European party lists; these European lists will be headed by the parties’ nominees to become President of the European executive or government and will be composed of candidates drawn from at least one third of the Member States”

[15] Muslim law consider all Muslims killing non-combatant humans apostates – or takfir in Arab.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0
Author :
Print

Comments

Leave a Reply