MEPs in the Constitutional Affairs Committee held a full-day debate on Thursday with MPs from national parliaments on two topics, the reform of the European electoral procedure and the citizens' initiative. Many doubts were raised about the scope and timetable for the electoral reform but the proposal on the citizens' initiative was widely supported, albeit with some modifications.
Committee Chair Carlo Casini (EPP, IT) summarised the day by saying "Our interparliamentary committee meeting with national parliaments on the European electoral reform and the citizens' initiative highlighted the extraordinary political dimension of these issues, which deal with the architecture of the Union: is the EU to be considered a real political entity or just a way to pursue intergovernmental cooperation?" Mr Casini added, "From our debate emerged the need to build upon strong European parties in order to progress toward a more integrated and coherent political entity".
Parliament's rapporteur on the issue, Andrew Duff (ALDE, UK) summarised his draft proposal as a package of four main elements: introducing pan-European constituencies with transnational lists for 25 additional MEPs, redistributing the current seats, widening the electoral participation of EU citizens living in other countries and harmonising the privileges and immunities of the MEPs.
The proposal on transnational lists received support from the Spanish and Cypriot national representatives, as well as from Sandrine Bélier (Greens/EFA, FR), who said she "shared the vision" but wondered why the pan-European representatives could not be included in the current number of MEPs. Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, DE) echoed this view.
Ramón Jáuregui Atondo (S&D, ES) remarked that the transnational lists were an interesting idea but that "as a group we are not in favour of this idea". Morten Messerschmidt (EFD, DK) went further by saying that transnational lists were "something that will never happen". Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian MPs also opposed this idea.
Misgivings on several proposals
On the redistribution of the 751 seats of Parliament, Polish MP Tomasz Glogowski pointed out it would be "difficult to push changes through the Council". On the issue of making it easier for EU citizens living in states other than their own to take part in elections, both the Luxembourg and Maltese national parliament representatives said the situation of countries with a large proportion of foreign residents must be taken into account.
Concerning the proposal to streamline the privileges and immunities of MEPs, the French and Finnish MPs brought up the problem of having different rules for national and European parliamentarians. Many speakers stressed that it was important to discuss all the issues mentioned in the draft report, but that time-wise it was too early to take action on them.
All four Parliament rapporteurs gave their views on the citizens' initiative. Alain Lamassoure (EPP, FR) argued that "the great difference between this initiative and a petition is that this invites the citizen to intervene positively to ask for European legislation". Zita Gurmai (S&D, HU) called for a more user-friendly approach and emphasised that a hearing should be arranged on any initiatives that reach one million signatures.
According to Diana Wallis (ALDE, UK), the minimum age for the signatories of a citizens' initiative should be lowered at least to 16, and ID papers should not be necessary. Gerald Häfner (Greens/EFA, DE) suggested several changes to the Commission proposal, including having an earlier check on the admissibility of initiatives and giving 18 months for the collection of signatures.
Michael Roth, who spoke in the name of the German Bundestag, agreed with most of these changes, and added that the minimum number of countries required for an initiative should be one fourth of the Member States, as opposed to the one third in the legislative proposal.
Olivier Chastel, Belgian Secretary of State for European Affairs, stressed that the citizens' initiative should be put in place soon, as the first anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty was approaching and it was "difficult to accept that the institutions are still squabbling over rules".
Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič said the Commission was "moving towards finding a more appropriate solution" to the question of checking admissibility. He also promised the Commission would provide a helpdesk for the citizens' initiatives.
In the chair:
Carlo Casini (EPP, IT) and Gwendolyn Rutten, Belgian Chamber of Representatives