Monday, 11 May 2009

Who chooses the MEPs

If the European election is by proportional representation then you can have a good idea who will be your MEPs before the election. In the North West there will be 8 MEPs elected so the first four or five will not be too bothered about the voting. Maybe there will be a big swing and some of the candidates may be very concerned about holding their seats.

The real question about who elects our MEPs is not about whose name is down for election, but about who puts those names in order; because in any list system those candidates who are low down on a particular party's list are unlikely to be elected, even if that party is returned by a landslide. Position is everything, and (except in an "open list" system, where the public get to vote both for candidates and for parties) position is not something in which the public has any say. Most countries, including the UK, have a "closed list" system.

In the European Union, rules for how candidates are selected are not stipulated. Each individual country, and in some cases each individual party, has its own rules. In some countries the candidates, and their rankings in the list, are appointed by the party leaders. This has the unfortunate effect of encouraging conformity and subservience, at the expense of performance. MEPs know that no matter how well they perform, they won't be high up the list at the next election, or even on the list, unless they have created a favourable impression with their party leader.

Another possibly unfortunate effect of a selection process is self-selection by the rich and powerful. For instance, James Goldsmith became an MEP in France back in 1994, as the representative of a party which he led and had recently founded. In Britain he similarly formed and financed the Referendum Party, but in the 1997 General Election they obtained no MP's, and Goldsmith himself received very few votes and lost his deposit. Back then the French had a list system, with the whole of France effectively being considered as a single constituency, and the British General Election was of course first-past-the-post.

Fortunately, more and more countries and parties are adopting a democratic candidate selection procedure for the Euro elections - one in which the party membership as a whole decides both who their candidates will be, and their order on the ballot paper. For instance, the Liberal Democrats select and rank their candidates by a ballot of members using a transferable vote system.

This means you can influence every stage of the European electoral process, including the crucial selection and ranking stage. Just sign up for the party of your choice, then exercise your power!

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