Tomorrow, February 7th 2018, the European Parliament will be voting on the question of whether or not transnational lists should be introduced for the upcoming May 2019 European election. The idea of such lists has been around for some time, as an extension of the wider idea of a European constituency, but it was only the day following the referendum in the UK, on whether or not there should be a Brexit, when this idea resurfaced the public sphere. Pro-European groups and thinkers have from the outset highlighted that the only possible response from the EU is to further strengthen its institutions and to go even stronger and bolder towards a EU wide constituency.
The title of this article reflects the current political debate around this vote; but it is not really the question this article seeks to answer. This article takes its premise that having transnational lists is a necessary step in the process of enabling an already existing European consistuency to have its (minor) say and presence in European politics. The current opposing voices and political figures actively trying to shut the idea of a transnational constituency down will discover that, should they ‘win’ the vote tomorrow, the European constituency will still find forms to manifest itself. This is because in reality, a European political community already exists, transnationalism is real and it defines the lives of many European citizens. Denying its reality is like denying the existence of climate change – you can do that all you want, but it won’t make it be any less real. The choice to outright prevent or vote against the introduction of transnational lists would be a choice to deprive those, who like myself and others I know, have lived and continue to live transnational lives, moving and in and out of sometimes more than 4 or 5 EU national spaces (and maybe some EU and global ones) and for whom such a list would represent an actual political choice which would reflect their experiences and values.
Opposing the introduction of transnational lists is an already lost battle
In short, opposing the introduction of transnational lists is a futile and an already lost battle. It is ironic to see the EU’s largest political part family voicing its opposition to that – for populism had a growing rate of development in Europe during the previous 10 years, when changes at the EU political level (in terms of which forces were influencing the agenda) have been minimal. As such, the idea that preserving the status quo can ever be a response to a constantly evolving and developing public debate seems to be fraught with contradiction.
The recent wave of ‘populism’ in the EU has wrongly been blamed by those trying to defend the status quo as being at the root of this demand for transnational lists. While it is true that populism seems to have taken over the public sphere in several European countries, this has happened because citizens have felt left behind or outside of the political processes. However, in parallel, and stemming from the same sentiment, we have also seen the development of democratic grassroots movements taking place in unlikely places in Europe. The latter are truly the solution to tackling Europe’s populism, and the symbolical introduction of transnational lists would show a commitment to tackling populism, by enabling pan-European, transnational and citizen led movements, with a meaningful and content driven message, to have the right to participate in European level politics.
European integration has been taking place, at the citizens’ level, through shared cultural, educational and professional experiences. The assumption that these can be kept separate from the artificial construction of the political body seems to be suggesting that the body politic has a legitimacy outside of the power of citizens.
European citizenship is a growing and developing reality and a transnational democracy, although having to manifest itself outside official structures, is beginning to take shape – shortly and surely, to manifest itself alongside official structures. Assuming the current political forces in the EP would, in a majority, oppose to the further development of a European constituency, I think we can rest assured that citizens will find ways to develop their own means of engagement and presence in the European public sphere.
As such, winning the vote on the introduction of transnational lists and seats for the European Parliament is bound to take place, either in the EP or at the citizens level – as, let’s not forget, they are the initial source of the delegated vote MEPs enjoy. One can only hope the majority of the EP will choose to follow the lead of those supporting this idea.
But is winning the current vote in the EP enough to secure truly ‘transnational’ lists? Unfortunately, this is not guaranteed. Simply calling a voting list to be transantional doesn’t make it necessarily transnational, if its conceptualisation reflects a national logic. The current draft on the table seems to support a distribution of seats, and is focused on the numerical aspect of this distribution, rather than supporting a qualitative change in the nature of these seats to reflect the transnational European idea.
However, a positive vote in this direction would be an important and symbolical first step from the EP and would go towards showing that EU institutions are there to serve the European citizens and the democratic evolution of a European constituency. The EP could become the ally of EU citizens and in fact, it is its responsibility to do so. Whether or not individual MEPs or political group will rise to their challenge and historical responsibility is another question, but of a lesser consequence than the actual development of a transnational political form of European citizenship, which is already taking place.
Crucial moment in the development of democracy
Tomorrow’s vote represents a historical moment for European integration, but most importantly, it represents a crucial moment in the development of democracy and its intrinsic component of citizenship, with implications at the global level. For what are Europe and the EU, if not the reflection on the global scale of its shared and evolving space of ideas, concepts, culture and of those individuals and communities who relate to it through various forms of ‘belonging’.
What I mean by that is quite simple – the EU has paved the way towards the development of a supranational space of mobility; however, this model is in the process of being applied in other parts of the world, and even where this isn’t a top-down process, the bottom-up results of human migration and transnational developments will lead to areas where national borders will not be the sole determining factor over the space where voting rights are exercised. The EU has the chance to rise up to its historical responsibility and encourage the development such a transnational notion of citizenship, which would complement the EU citizenship currently still very underdeveloped.