Will primaries address the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’?

Jon Worth looks at whether the use of primaries to elect the President of the European Union will help address the EU’s perceived democratic deficit.

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The issue of primaries has been doing the rounds in British politics for a couple of years now. Progress has been the principal backer of the idea on the left, organising an event about the issue at Labour Party Conference. The primary that chose Sarah Wollaston in Totnes for the Conservatives is the best known example on the right.

European-Union-in-your-handsBut how about applying the same principles to EU democracy? Or, more precisely, use primaries to help address the EU’s perceived democratic deficit?

That is the idea put forward by leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, Dany Cohn-Bendit, at an event in Brussels.

Cohn-Bendit’s plan would be for all the progressive forces in the European Parliament (Social Democrats, Greens and, perhaps oddly, Liberals) to agree a common candidate for President of the European Commission to replace José Manuel Barroso from 2014.

The plan is clearly inspired by the experience within the Parti Socialiste in France to select François Hollande as candidate for President.

Cohn-Bendit’s rhetorical flourish actually does not take into account the very concrete progress that has been made on this issue within the Party of European Socialists (PES), the EU-wide political party which counts Labour among its member parties.

In November 2011, the PES Council agreed a framework for the selection of a candidate for President of the European Commission, where national parties can choose whether to directly or indirectly consult their members on the decision as to who the PES would nominate to the Commission.

The idea would then be that if the centre left were to be the largest political force in the European Parliament after the elections it would seek to get its candidate to be Commission President.

Admittedly this is not a primary as such, but more of an EU-wide selection process, but would nevertheless represent a major step forward in comparison to the abject confusion in 2009.


See also:

On Europe, Lib Dem voters are closer to the Tories than Nick Clegg 14 Mar 2012

Brits’ voices not heard by EU, but they want closer integration on international issues 22 Feb 2012

French primaries point the way for democracy 11 Oct 2011


Of course there is the danger that for political or financial reasons Labour chooses not to consult its members in a PES primary process, let alone contemplate the open primary suggested by Cohn Bendit.

Yet as these debates advance in Brussels it looks like 2014 is going to present some step forward for EU-wide democracy – it’s vital Labour and others on the left in the UK play a full and active part in the process, for not doing so makes the traditional calls about the EU’s democratic deficit ring rather hollow.


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10 Responses to “Will primaries address the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’?”

  1. Anonymous

    Here are the democratic deficits.

    1. Unequal constituency sizes. That means a vote in one constituency is worth more than a vote elsewhere.

    2. Marginals. Marginal seats control what happens. A vote in a safe seat is worth bugger all.

    3. Governments passed their sell by date. People change their mind more frequently than every 5 years.

    4. Manifesto promises reneged on

    5. Laws enacted not in manifestos

    6. Small cabals controlling who becomes an MP

    7. Even smaller cabals controlling what happens when in power.

    8. Governments not telling the truth.

    9. Corrupt MPs

    10. Unelected acting as politicians – the Lords.

    11. You can’t get rid of an incumbant without voting for the unacceptable.

    12. Having to vote for a package – manifesto – and not able to choose from the menu

    13. Having no vote on an issue.

  2. Anonymous

    You missed the #1 issue – FPTP.

    Oh wait, the EU elections /are/ PR, and a lot more democratic than Westminster’s!

  3. Anonymous

    FPTP just selects the repesentative, who unless in that small cabal trots through the lobby like an obedient cow.

    Moving to direct democracy means that you have a say, now, when the Tories are in power.

    I would have thought you were in favour of it?

    It however would mean several things.

    1. The electorate has to decide, spend or tax, or the mix.
    2. The electorate also has to decide if they want to borrow and dump on future generations, for example over pensions.
    3. The electorate has to decide, if they are going to dump on others, will future generations vote and say, tough, we’re not paying.

    I suspect that people will choose a lot more tax cuts rather than spending, bar some areas such as NHS and schools.

  4. Anonymous

    PR isn’t “direct democracy”.

    Thanks for pushing your agenda of cuts-at-all-cost-to-the-99% though.

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