16th July 2012: These are comments made by Andrew Brons in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) last Thursday on a Presentation by Professor Luis Maduro on How Constitutional Changes Might Change Public Attitudes to European Elections and to the Mutualisation of Debt .
"Your (Professor Maduro’s) thesis assumes that electorates can be persuaded to accept the European Union’s criteria for taking their decisions on how to vote. However, people have the right to decide not only on how to vote but also the criteria on which that decision will be taken, however much others might deplore those criteria.
(Professor Maduro had suggested that the parties should commit themselves to alternative candidates for the Presidency of the Commission, so that European elections would be seen as an indirect vote for a candidate for the position of President.)
"Changes in political identification might facilitate changes in constitutional structures but changes in constitutional structures cannot determine how they vote or the factors that they take into account.
"In the European Elections, it is too tempting for the national political parties to use the unpopularity of their rivals for electoral advantage. Even local government elections are rarely decided by local factors.
"You suggested that constitutional changes that draw attention to the benefits as well as the costs of EU membership might lead to a greater acceptance of the mutualisation of debt and of budgetary burden.
"However, it is clear from recent experience that acceptance of the mutualisation of debt would depend on a common European identity. Most of the members of the other members of this Committee would see that as desirable but whether or not you see it as desirable, it does not exist now. That is clear from the response of the German and other Northern European electorates to the perceived bailing out of Southern European countries.
"Members of the same national states are prepared to accept, however reluctantly, the payment of taxes to alleviate economic problems in their own regions, because they share a common identity. However, the existence of that common identity must precede and not follow the pooling of debt and the sharing budgetary burdens and benefits."
Professor Maduro replied to this by suggesting that communities faced by common problems and the necessity for common decisions thereby developed a common identity.
Comment by Andrew Brons MEP:
Professor Maduro’s suggestion that European elections might become indirect elections for the election of the Presidency of the Commission was an interesting one, even an ingenious one, though not, of course, one that we should see as desirable.
It could be said that there is a precedent for such a development in the transformation of general elections in Parliamentary systems from being the means by which members of Parliament are chosen into the means by which governments (and prime ministers) are chosen. Of course, the development that gave that transformation its momentum was the growth of modern political parties. Party labels provide a political shorthand that connects the vote of the elector for a particular constituency candidate into a vote for a party leader and ministerial team.
For European elections to be transformed into an indirect choice of candidates for the Presidency of the Commission, it would be necessary for European Political Parties to supersede national parties completely, in European Elections. I have warned about this before but it is now clear that this supersession would be necessary for the transformation envisaged by Professor Maduro to take place.
It is now clear that the development of European Political Parties is not simply icing on the cake for the European Project; they are an essential ingredient.
Some – especially those in UKIP – see attendance at committees to be a waste of time, even a distraction. Attendance at this presentation shows how much can be learnt.