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EU Parliament: The visibility problem

by Sven Triloqvist Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 05:59:21 AM EST

There is a structural problem with EP elections, stemming from the need for candidates to have national visibility. There is no 'local' element in EP elections.

A nationwide campaign is a lot more expensive than a local one. In Finland, the average for a national election candidate campaign is around €45000. For the EU elections. it's around €100.000.

To save money you need candidates with built-in visibility. In selecting candidates, the parties will tend to either go with failed national politicians or celebrities - gossip or sports.

From the diaries with a small edit. How are European Parliament candidates selected in your country?
Part of our ongoing coverage of the 2009 European elections.
As a reminder: we'd like contributions from as many countries as possible, and on as many topics as possible!

Finland currently has 2 failed ex-PMs, a handful of political deadbeats and a couple of political oddballs. Becoming an MEP is seen by political operators as a consolation prize or sinecure. Or indeed the EU may be seen as a large carpet to sweep political dirt under.

See NordicStorm's excellent diary for more on the Finnish and international MEP scene: Minority MEPs?

But the most worrying trend is the pressganging of celebrities with nothing to celebrate, who have the required nationwide visibility, but rarely a clue about politics. It is more like jury service. Cost-efficient these celebrities may be, but useful? Even my name has been mentioned, so the barrel is being scraped. Talk about pigeon among the cats...

The former MEP Alexander Stubb, (National Coalition Party), now Finland's Foreign Minister, is one of the few Finnish candidates to sink himself whole-heartedly into the EU process and obviously saw it as a career move at a time when the Nat. Coalition Party couldn't offer him the kind of advancement he wanted.

An ex-PM of Finland, Anneli Jäteenmäki, who was forced to resign for spying on the President, is apparently still wandering around Brussels  making no contribution at all - either because she is language-challenged or is using the 'well-paid holiday' in Brussels to plot her comeback in Finland. This disgraced lawyer has enough supporters in up north in reindeer territory to still make political waves.

There is a second structural problem: in order to get EU funding within parliament, and be guaranteed seats on committees, you need to join a group that has at least 20 MEPS from 6 different countries (Rising to 25 this year). There are currently 7 of these different groups (and a few independents). Classifying the myriad national European political parties in just 7 groups makes for some odd bedfellows in these groups.

Here are the current groups:

EPP-ED       284    European People's Party-European Democrats
PES          215    Party of European Socialists
ALDE      103    Allance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
UEN            44    Union of Europe for the Nations
G-EFA        42    European Greens - European Free Alliance
GUE-NGL   41    European United Left-Nordic Green Left
ID            24    Independence/Democracy Group

Another small wrinkle is that the MEPS from the same country sit in Parliament with their MEP group, not with fellow countrypersons. A good thing imo, but something else to have the electorate scratching their heads. The EU is still seen by the majority of voters as somehow being a representation of national interests, and that is why the MEP votes tend to be mid-term punishment of national parties rather than a vote for a political point of view.

This is one of the great challenges that the EU Parliament faces - to move away from national interest toward European interests. I think very few voters really understand that the EU is about redistribution - the rich helping the poor so we can really talk about one Europe - as well as all the worthy goals of protecting citizens by such things as standardization, free movement etc.

I realize I'll be challenged on this, but in my view the EU is built to be inherently socialist ;-)

Your poll doesn't give me any options to vote for - is this intentional?  The situation in Ireland is somewhat similar.  I will do a diary in due course.  It would be interesting to have an MEP on ET.  Why don't you go for it?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Mar 3rd, 2009 at 04:17:50 PM EST
I inadvertently put a space in the poll area, deleted it, but the poll remains! Then I thought - what the heck - it's symbology.

Apart from a less than fighting chance of winning an election due to the fact that many of my fans are incapable of interacting with a voting booth, the only bit of Brussels I really like is the Cartoon Museum.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Mar 3rd, 2009 at 04:46:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can delete the symbololology if you wish...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 6th, 2009 at 08:04:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Please do. It was a mistake that I couldn't retrieve. Thanks

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Mar 6th, 2009 at 08:06:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now done, but sorry for the delay, I was busy elsewhere.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Mar 7th, 2009 at 03:02:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the exact election system in Finland ?

In France it used to be fully proportional, with party-made lists, and a 5% cutoff. But for 2004 France was divided into 8 electoral districts, each electing from 5 to 13 MEPs, in effect making the cutoff significantly higher, and making it harder to get elected for small parties...

Also, France has no local independent media worthy of the names, which means that there are few politicians with a "local" notoriety of the scale of the 72 districts that would elect MEPs. 72 local elections would be significantly more expensive to run that a single national campaigns, or even 8 regional campaigns.

The obvious problem with making the EP elections relevant is that the media coverage in Brussels is deficient - for any national media the national news will always be more important than the EU ones ; and with the economic crisis being particularly hard on the press, expect fewer newspapers to keep journalists in Paris...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Mar 3rd, 2009 at 05:03:24 PM EST
Iirc, proportional representation with party-made lists. But (and it is a big one) the order on the lists are completedly decided by the number of preference votes. Combined with few seats the finnish EP election turns more into a personal eleciton then a party election.

Waiting to be corrected by the finnish...

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 06:09:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
was also, in France, to go around the parity requirements: for elections based on party lists, there now is an obligation for these lists to have a strict male/female alternance in the list. If you have smaller regions, then the number of actually eligible positions on the lists can more often than not be an odd number, thereby facilitating the election of more men...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 09:19:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here are the galleries of EP candidates from the main parties in Finland. Many of them have their mobile number published. I am always interested to see which pictures of themselves they choose (or are chosen), because for invisible candidates their picture may be the only influence on voters.

National Coalition Party
Christian Democrats
True Finns
Swedish People's Party
Centre Party
Social Democrats

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 02:11:29 AM EST
Irish EP elections are done by region. Is there any bar to them being elected from much smaller constituencies than you're talking about, other than local practice and choices?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 06:23:19 AM EST
A new electoral law was passed in '98.

Proportional representation: the whole country forms a single constituency. Candidates stand at national level and votes are counted on a national basis. Preference voting.

I don't think it would make much difference to the campaign cost for candidates if it were regional. You still have to get flyers and posters out over a large area and that costs if you subcontract it. In a national election per town, a candidate can rustle up volunteers to save on those costs. Finns also like to meet their candidates, so travel is also a major cost in EP v precinct electioneering.

BTW Finland also has pre-election day postal voting.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 09:39:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there any bar to them being elected from much smaller constituencies than you're talking about, other than local practice and choices?

Or to formulate otherwise: what are the EU rules governing the national rules of the EP election?

I have no clue.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 10:58:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since it might be longwinded and slightly offtopic, I made it a diary.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 11:26:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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