Guy Verhofstadt remains hopeful
The European parliament was voting on the reallocation of Britain’s 73 seats after Brexit, and Mr Verhofstadt vowed to push for the seats to be chosen through a transitional list of candidates despite the assembly voting against the proposal for the 2019 election.
The proposal, with 368 against and 274 in favour and 34 abstentions, failed after the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) said there was no legal basis for what one lawmaker called “another elite-driven project”.
But a defiant Mr Verhofstadt, the president of Alliance of Liberals&Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and European Parliament Brexit chief, hit back.
Writing a statement on Facebook, he said: “We lost the battle today, but not the war. We will continue to fight for a real European democracy!
“Today we celebrate the 25th birthday of the Maastricht Treaty which introduced the concept of “European citizenship” with strong support of Helmut Kohl.
“It is incredible that the EPP today decided that these same European citizens should not get the right to vote in transnational lists to directly elect the Commission President.”
Mr Verhofstadt has been outspoken in his support for the redistribution of votes, even publishing a list of ten reasons why the transitional list is a good idea ahead of the vote.
Calling the list a “fundamental right”, he argued: “Transnational lists are not a danger to European democracy, but on the contrary, would enable European citizens to directly vote for their preferred lead candidate, thus completing the innovation of the 2014 elections, when parliament successfully defended its prerogative to elect the head of the executive, as it is the right of every parliament in a parliamentary democracy.”
On transnational lists, we’ve lost the battle today, but not the war! We’ll keep on fighting for a real European democracy. Incredible that @EPPGroup voted against. Wilfried Martens was in favor, and Helmut Kohl strongly believed in European citizenship ������ https://t.co/rpwo0IoZ4c
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) February 7, 2018
But Mr Verhofstadt is not alone in continuing his push for reform.
French President Emmanuel Macron will also continue to support the creation of transnational lists for European parliament elections in years to come.
In a statement he said: “France will continue to defend this idea in months and years to come because it would contribute to strengthening European democracy by creating debates on European challenges and not strictly national ones during EU elections.”
Mr Macron had proposed in a speech in Athens in September that some of these seats should go to Europe-wide constituencies instead of national ones as is the case currently.
Macron backed the transnationall lists too
Although Mr Verhofstadt and France also had the support of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain the proposal faced strong opposition from the Visegrad Four bloc – Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – and Austria.
Concerns had been sparked as pan-European lists would increase the number of German MEPs at a time when EU’s biggest member state has already been accused of having too much sway over the bloc.
Earlier this month senior EU officials have said it is unlikely this would be adopted in time for the next EU election in 2019, so logistically it would not be until the following election in 2024.
Dara Murphy, EPP 2019 campaign director, told Politico: “Given the different requirements and legal systems across the 27 member states, it’s just not going to be a factor for these elections.”
Mr Macron and his fellow national leaders, who have a final say, will discuss the matter at a summit on February 23. Several of them, notably from smaller states which believe transnational lists would be dominated by France and Germany, have expressed opposition.
EU officials also doubt the necessary law changes in all 27 states could be completed in time to allow for the introduction of the system as early as next year.
Mr Macron set up his own party to win election in France last year and it has yet to form cross-border alliances within the European Parliament, limiting its influence there.
Next year’s election, and potentially a transnational list backed by Mr Macron, could increase the French president’s voice in the EU assembly.
At present, the biggest party is the EPP, led in the chamber by an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
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After Britain leaves the EU in March 2019, the European Parliament will have fewer lawmakers and the assembly is seeking to reallocate some seats to underrepresented countries such as Spain, Italy, France and the Netherlands.
Mr Macron had proposed in September that some of these 73 seats freed up by Britain’s departure should go to Europe-wide constituencies instead of national ones.
Critics of the transnational lists are concerned the system would create two classes of EU parliamentarians.
Gyorgy Schopflin, a centre-right EPP lawmaker, said there was not enough time to change EU countries rules to prepare for transnational lists before the 2019 vote.
He said: “Not only is there no legal base for such an experiment, what we’re looking at is yet another elite-driven project in Europe that will only end up making the EU even more remote from the voters than they already are.”