Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


10 EU elections

Committee's assessment (a) Politically important; (b) Legally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Document details(a) Commission Communication reporting on the EU elections of 22-25 May 2014; (b) European Council Decision proposing to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the European Commission
Legal base(a) —; (b) Article 17(7) TEU;—; QMV
Departments

Document numbers

(a) Cabinet Office (b) Foreign and Commonwealth Office

(a) (36803), 8876/15, COM(15) 206 (b) (36170), —

Summary and Committee's conclusions

10.1 This report reviews the conduct of the 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections. These were the first to take place since the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. They also established for the first time a direct link between the outcome of the elections and the appointment of the European Commission President. As part of that process, the European political parties nominated Presidential candidates, the European Council then nominated the candidate of the majority party following the elections and that candidate was then elected by the EP.

10.2 The report focuses on the measures taken to enhance the transparency, democratic conduct and European dimension of the elections. It assesses citizens' awareness of the elections and their associated rights, the action taken by Member States and EU institutions and actual turnout. The assessments are based on a variety of sources, principally Eurobarometer surveys, Member State responses to Commission questionnaires and a Commission-authorised study which incorporated interviews with key stakeholders.[ 121]

10.3 One of the key findings of the report is that overall turnout was 42.61% — a decrease of 0.36% compared with 2009 (42.97%). There was significant difference in turnout across the EU with a high of 89.64% in Belgium (where voting is mandatory) to a low of 13.05% in Slovakia. 35.4% of the electorate voted in the UK, up from 34.5% in 2009. There was limited adoption of the practice of indicating affiliation to European parties on ballot papers; such as there was mostly appeared in printed election material.

10.4 The Commission's conclusions are mainly positive. It considers that the direct link between elections and the appointment of the Commission President together with the greater provision of information about the different candidates' programmes have increased voter engagement. The use of interactive social media also helped. Voters could better understand the impact of their vote on the political direction of the EU for the next five years, take into account European (and not exclusively national) political issues and distinguish between alternative European political choices. This in turn, the Commission believes, has "reinforced the democratic legitimacy" of the Commission and strengthened accountability. The participation of Presidential candidates in EU-wide political debates and events "europeanised" the elections. Finally, Directive 2013/EU ensured that mobile EU citizens could exercise their franchise more effectively and efficiently.

10.5 For the 2019 elections, the Commission identifies ways of further enhancing the democratic legitimacy of the EU decision-making process, its "European dimension" and persistently low turnout in some Member States. These include greater use of awareness-raising campaigns at national, regional and local level, highlighting affiliations between national and European political parties and encouraging EU citizens to participate in dialogues.

10.6 In respect of document (a), we thank the Minister for Constitutional Reform at the Cabinet Office (John Penrose) for his Explanatory Memorandum. While we are familiar with the views he expresses on the process for appointing the Commission President and the common voting day (reflecting those of the previous Government), we are grateful to him for drawing to our attention the work of the Government, Electoral Commission and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on voting by EU mobile citizens.

10.7 Our main concern reflects that of our predecessors, namely, whether there is a prospect that initiatives, either set out in the Commission's Recommendation on enhancing the democratic and efficient conduct of the elections to the European Parliament[ 122] or emerging in the follow-up to document (a), could become proposals for binding EU legislation. We ask the Minister to keep us fully informed of any relevant developments, particularly any arising from the 12 June meeting of the EU Expert Group on Electoral Matters.

10.8 In respect of document (b), we ask the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) to respond to our predecessor Committee's questions set out in the conclusions to its Report of 16 July 2014.[ 123] These concern the way in which the Commission President, Mr Juncker, was nominated and elected and the European Council's commitment to reviewing that process.

10.9 In the meantime, we retain both documents under scrutiny, and draw this report to the attention of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee given the interest of its predecessor noted in paragraph 10.6 above.

Full details of the documents: (a) Commission Communication: Report on the European elections of 22-25 May 2014: (36803), 8876/15, COM(15) 206; (b) European Council Decision proposing to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the European Commission: (36170), —.

Background

DOCUMENT (A)

10.10 This is a new document. However, in the last Parliament our predecessors scrutinised other documents on the conduct of the 2014 EU elections: a Commission Communication on preparing for the 2014 European elections[ 124] and a Commission Recommendation on enhancing the democratic and efficient conduct of the elections to the European Parliament (EP).[ 125]

10.11 Those documents included proposals for national political parties and Member States to promote parties' affiliation with European political parties in the lead-up to the elections; for Member States to agree on a common day for the elections of the EP, with polling stations closing at the same time; for European political parties to promote their candidate for the President of the European Commission and for national political parties to inform voters about their candidate for Commission President and their programme. The Government at that time was opposed to those non-binding recommendations for the reasons set out in the previous Committee's Report.[ 126]

10.12 These recommendations were also relevant to the proposal for a Regulation on the statute and funding of European political parties and foundations.[ 127] This was drafted to require European political parties to take all appropriate measures to inform voters of the affiliations between themselves, national political parties and candidates. Our predecessors recommended this document, and a proposed amending Regulation on the financing of EU political parties[ 128] for debate in European Committee. This took place on 6 February 2013.[ 129] The Regulations were adopted by the EU on 29 September 2014.

10.13 When our predecessors recommended that the Communication and Recommendation should be debated on the floor of the House, they recognised that although the proposals were not legally-binding they increased "the possibility of subsequent Commission-led legally binding measures". They considered that the measures, particularly on a common voting day, addressed to national political parties and elections, represented:

    "a clear intention to interfere with Member States' electoral arrangements and traditions and to restrict national parties' freedom to act, without power being conferred on the EU to do so."

10.14 They also agreed with the Government that in those documents "the Commission places an emphasis on the role of the European Parliament and elections in the nomination of the next President of the Commission which is not warranted by Article 17(7) TEU". The relevance of this Article is explained in the context of document (b) in paragraph 0.17 below.

10.15 Our predecessors asked the Government to provide, in advance of the debate, a detailed analysis of its views on the competence of the Commission to propose each of the measures in the Recommendation, and with its views on how the Commission was likely to follow up these two documents. The documents were debated on the floor of the House of Commons on 18 June 2013.[ 130]

DOCUMENT (B)

10.16 This is a document which our predecessors retained under scrutiny in their Report of July 2014.[ 131] It proposed Jean-Claude Juncker as the European Council's candidate for Commission President. It was adopted at the European Council on 27 June 2014 by a qualified majority of EU Heads of State and Government. Only UK and Hungary voted against Mr Juncker's nomination. He was subsequently elected by the EP on 15 July 2014.

10.17 The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) explained to our predecessors that the UK's opposition to document (b), legally-speaking, was based on the interpretation of Article 17(7) TEU. This states:

    "taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members."

10.18 It was the view of the previous UK government that:

    "it should not be for the European Parliament to dictate the choice of candidate for the role of President of the European Commission. The Treaties clearly set out the role of the European Parliament and the European Council play respectively in the process of selecting the new Commission President."[ 132]

10.19 As a concession to UK opposition to Mr Juncker's nomination[ 133], the European Council gave the following commitment in corresponding Council Conclusions:

    "Once the new European Commission is effectively in place, the European Council will consider the process for the appointment of the President of the European Commission for the future, respecting the European Treaties."

10.20 Our predecessors asked the Minister for Europe to respond to various questions in the conclusions to their Report which examined the robustness of that commitment.

The Government's view on document (a)

10.21 In an Explanatory Memorandum of 30 June 2015, the Minister for Constitutional Reform at the Cabinet Office (John Penrose) first addresses the question of the link between the EU citizen vote and the election of the Commission President, first set out in the Commission's Recommendation.[ 134] He notes that the Commission refers in document (a) to this aspect of the 2014 process as "a new constitutional order". The Minister considers that, in accordance with Article 17(7) TEU, it is for the European Council, composed of EU Heads of State and Government, to propose the Commission President. Referring to the commitment secured in the European Council in June 2014, he says that the Government will "engage with the review to press its views".

10.22 Referring to proposals in the Commission's Recommendation on making the link between national and European political parties more visible, the Minister says:

    "Participation in European elections is governed by the laws of Member States. National political parties participate in elections in the UK, not European political parties. There is nothing within UK domestic law which would prevent a national political party from making known its affiliation with a European political party, during the course of its election campaign. Conversely, there is nothing that can force a national political party to make known its affiliation with a European political party."

10.23 Turning to a common voting day, the Minister reports that practice did not change in the 2014 process: 21 Member States held elections on Sunday 25 May and seven between 22 and 24 May. Of these seven, the UK maintained its tradition of holding Thursday elections by opting for 22 May. This reflects the Government's view that "electoral diversity across the EU should be respected". He reiterates views put to us by the previous Government that having a common election day could actually undermine turnout instead of increasing it and that it is impractical given time-zone differences.

10.24 On the question of the ability of EU mobile citizens to vote, the Minister refers to discussions between the Commission and UK authorities concerning some issues reported by EU citizens residing in the UK. The Minister notes that the report mentions the relevant recommendations of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on "Voter Engagement in the UK"[ 135] to simplify the registration system and to run a corresponding publicity campaign. He informs us that the Cabinet Office plans to discuss these issues further with the Electoral Commission and other electoral stakeholders, in the context of both EP and local elections.

10.25 The Minister concludes by explaining that document (a) was discussed at the EU Expert Group on Electoral Matters meeting on 12 June, with future steps for proposals to be determined.

Previous Committee Reports

(a) None, but see (34797-8), 7648/13 and 7650/13: First Report HC 83-i (2013-14), chapter 3 (8 May 2013); see also (34523), 17469/12: Twenty-seventh Report HC 86-xxvii (2012-13), chapter 1 (16 January 2013); (34259), 13842/12: Nineteenth Report HC 86-xix (2012-13) chapter 2 (7 November 2012); (b) (36170), —: Eighth Report HC 219-viii (2014-15), chapter 7 (16 July 2014).


121   Including European political parties, national authorities, media. Back

122   (34798), 7650/13: First Report HC 83-i (2013-14), chapter 3 (8 May 2013). Back

123   (36170), -: Eighth Report HC 219-viii (2014-15), chapter 7 (16 July 2014). Back

124   (34797), 7648/13: First Report HC 83-i (2013-14), chapter 3 (8 May 2013). Back

125   Recommendation 2013/142/EU. See (34798), 7650/13: First Report HC 83-i (2013-14), chapter 3 (8 May 2013). Back

126   See footnote 2. Back

127   Regulation No 1141/2014 of 22 October 2014 on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations. Back

128   Regulation No. 1142/2014 of 22 October 2014 amending Regulation No 966/2012 as regards the financing of European political parties. Back

129   Stg Co Deb, European Standing Committee B, 6 February 2013, cols. 3-18. Back

130   HC Deb, 18 June 2013, cols. 818-836. Back

131   (36170), -: Eighth Report HC 219-viii (2014-15), chapter 7 (16 July 2014). Back

132   Explanatory Memorandum of the Minister for Europe 11 July 2014. Back

133   This is how the Prime Minister portrayed the commitment: "I believe that it was a bad day for Europe because the decision of the Council risks undermining the position of national Governments, and it risks undermining the power of national Parliaments by handing further power to the European Parliament. Although the nomination has been decided and must be accepted, it is important that the Council at least agreed to review and reconsider how to handle the next appointment of a Commission President. That is set out in the Council conclusions". HC Deb, 30 June 2014, col. 600. Back

134   See note 5. Back

135   Fourth Report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Voter engagement in the UK, HC 232 (2014-15), (14 November 2014) Back


 
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Prepared 30 July 2015