Bringing about transnational political movements in Europe

Between the global crises affecting our continent, the rise of populism in Europe and the difficulty of establishing a true European identity, it is difficult to reconcile European citizens with their institutions.

Modern challenges must force us to think about the Europe of tomorrow instead of squabbling over yesterday’s quarrels.

When citizens look to Europe, they must be able to find common answers to their problems, not a series of sometimes contradictory answers.

What we have to offer them: A strong political Europe that protects them and can quickly resolve the challenges they face in their daily lives.

The observation is therefore simple: in order to meet the justified expectations of European citizens, Europe must renew itself.

To do this, encouraging the emergence of transnational political movements seems more than necessary. Rethinking its mode of governance and creating political, financial and human instruments geared to the common interest would enable Europe to work genuinely towards the creation of a “community of destiny” Europe based on solidarity between all.

When I was Secretary of State for European Affairs, the transnational aspect of politics has always kept me very busy and I have never tired of putting it on the agenda.  

Two weeks after the referendum on the Brexit, at the Bratislava summit in July 2016, I had already proposed to use the 73 seats left empty by the British to elect new MEPs from transnational lists based on previous resolutions of the European Parliament.

Then, together with my French and Spanish counterparts, Nathalie Loiseau and Jorge Toledo, we published an article in the newspaper Le Monde in 2017 calling for the creation of transnational lists for the 2019 European elections. A first in European history! An initiative widely shared by Emmanuel Macron who unfortunately met fierce opposition from so-called Europhile MEPs who acted without using their common sense.

Today, it is clear that if Europe had not remained confined to nationalist logics, the coronavirus crisis could have been managed perhaps more effectively, certainly more quickly.

The first weeks when national responses were anything but concerted left a bitter taste in the mouths of European citizens who were expecting strong and immediate action from the European Union.

Fortunately, Europe proved that even without proper competences, it could act and quickly reversed what could have been a real fiasco.

It is therefore time to think far ahead and do better!

Towards transnational lists

Election periods are high points in democratic life. They are the time for societies to ask themselves important questions about their future in the short and medium term. They shape society’s vision of itself, and they build consensus that gives legitimacy to elected representatives and governments. But for this to happen, the debate must be able to bring society as a whole together.

Whereas the voting method has so far confined pre-election debates to national borders, transnational lists would create a new and truly European space for political exchange and confrontation. This would allow Europeans to get to know each other better and to build consensus around ideas to defend their common interest, as Union’s citizens.

By promoting the emergence of a European public space, transnational lists would encourage the emergence of European political parties, where ideologies and vision of the future would count more than nationality. The idea of transnational political parties stands in stark contrast to the current system, where national parties send delegates to the large political groups in Parliament, whose political line is often very difficult to identify.

How would this work in practice? My proposal is to allow Europeans to elect a limited number of MEPs at European level, in addition to the MEPs they already elect at national level. The names of the transnational candidates would be present in every voting booth in the EU and all Europeans would be able to vote for the candidate they consider best represents them, not on the basis of nationality, but on the basis of their ideas.

Why put them in place now?

For the European Union to be powerful, citizens must feel European just as much as they feel French, Italian, Romanian or Swedish. They must share a common vision for a common destiny.

Faced with the emergence of new global superpowers and models of society radically different from the one we share, we must, while knowing how to cultivate our differences and specificities, defend our values together.

Transnational lists would be an opportunity to put Europe at the heart of the European ballot and allow citizens to take up the issues they all share in the 27 Member States. We need to move away from the exclusively national issues that are raised at every election for the European elections. Indeed, the type of ballot we have today is not very conducive to the real representativeness of European elected representatives, since they are co-opted by national parties in order, in essence, to support a national ideal. Europe must no longer be an excuse for national battles!

Transnational lists can (and must!) be the seeds of a new transnational policy, indispensable for a true European democracy and for a stronger legitimacy of the EU as a whole.

These lists would then be embryos of real European political movements that will only have the necessary democratic legitimacy if they are voted directly by the citizens.

The emergence of transnational lists would therefore put an end to this imbroglio which distracts European citizens from the very essence of the ballot.

Making these lists would give a new impetus to European politics and force the parties to fight for their vision of Europe.

Strengthening the Spitzenkandidaten system

EU citizens thirst for more direct democracy. That is why we must allow them to have more influence on the choice of the President of the European Commission, who sets the broad guidelines for the next five years.

With this new system, the parties would appoint a head of list through their own procedures (primaries, congress, etc.). The person occupying the first position in the transnational lists would be the party’s nominated candidate for the presidency of the European Commission (as we say in Brussels, the “Spitzenkandidat”). By giving their transnational vote to one list rather than another, Europeans could clearly express their choice for the presidency of the European executive. Faced with the victory of a candidate, voted in all EU countries, the European Council would have no choice but to accept the citizens’ vote.

Only by doing so will we be able to bring the citizens closer to the institutions.

The EU must be more than a peace project and a common market. It must work for the common interest and create a genuine community of destiny!