Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, June 13, 2004

European Parliament Elections

Hi Again,

The European Union's Parliament (EP) held elections this week and the results just came out. Not many people inside Europe understand how influential this institution is and even fewer people outside Europe know it even exists. Despite its underestimated influence on legislation, voters tend to treat elections for its members as consequence free protest votes. For that reason it would be easy to over state any trends shown in this election. But let's speculate anyway, that's what blogs are for, right?

Parties on the left of the political spectrum (including Labor parties, socialist and social democratic parties as well as the Greens etc) gained seats from the last EP election in most countries (obviously new member states had 100% gains for every party) with the exceptions of Luxembourg, the U.K. (Conservatives also lost so Labour losses may be a possible anti-Blair protest), Finland. The Spanish Socialist party gained seats building on the momentum from their recent national election victory. The BBC reports that governing parties tended to lose and anti-EU parties tended to do well (see below). There was also what Europeans consider a low turnout (45% of eligible voters).

So what does all this mean? The conventional wisdom is that governing parties lose seats in the EP elections. Kind of like off year elections in the USA. Most governing parties were Conservative or otherwise right of center so an overall win for the Socialists could be just that, a win for the socialists. Or it could be a "throw the bums out vote." (for example, both major parties in the UK lost seats)

In the end, the make up of the EP doesn't effect the foreign policies of European states that much. But it MIGHT indicate the mood of voters for countries that have elections in the near future.


US West said...

I haven't followed these elections closely at all. But the British public, from what I heard today, is not too keen on the EP, seeing it as a way of taking the voice away from the people by weakening local (i.e. British) government. It has been speculated that if given the opportunity to vote for the EU again, the French would vote it down. The Germans, while in favor of the EU, still partner individually with the likes of France to voice many common concerns and to maintain their influence over a growing EU. And you mentioned the increase in newly elected Anti-EU party MPs in the new EP. (that is a mouth full to read;-) ).I wonder if the voters are trying to usurp the EP from within. I also wonder if you will see a fracturing in the EU as the old guard lines up on one side ann the newly-admitted on the other- causing a new East-West split. What do you think?

I also have to say that proportional representation in the EP is not terribly practical. They are hoping to alleviate the "deficit of democracy" but you know what they say about too much of a good thing. It creates a kind of anarchical “puddling effect” where individual drops collect in disseparate puddles rather than in a big lake. (i.e. Everyone has influence and so no one does.) For individual countries to have much pull in the EP, their representatives (regardless of political stripe) will have to form mini-coalitions. These may morph and spill over to local politics. The other way this could work (but I doubt it) is that like-parties can form coalitions across national borders more deeply integrating the EU system. I wonder if the EP will ultimately lead to a type of party consolidation in Europe overall where the smaller, less important parties either dissolve or get soaked up by the larger ones. Your thoughts?

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, there is a lot of hand wringing in the European Press about anti-EU parties doing "better" but they are going from 2% to 6% (Euroskeptics and the extreme right make up only 6.3% of the seats in the EP). And these are EP elections and one thing the EP can't do is dissolve the EU. The EP is still made up of about 80% parties that generally support European integration (Christian Democrats/Conservatives, Socialists, Liberals). Greens make 5% and they are split on integration. To put this in perspective, the category of "Other" got 7.8% of the seats.

Also, the Danish paper I read is reporting that one of the two anti-EU parties went from 2 seats to 1 seat while the other held steady at 1 seat (Denmark has 14 seats: 5 SocDems). This is interesting because the Danes are known for being especially anti-integration. The paper also reported that exit polls show that while Danes remain resistent to more integration, they aren't talking about being totally against the EU in general anymore. Their opposition has matured into a more policy based opposition.

The MEPs don't vote based on nationality. So there isn't a lot of coalition forming based on nationality. There is strong evidence that French Socialists vote with German Social Democrats and British Labour MEPs rather than with French Gaullists. Ideology matters in the EP more than nationality.

Proportional Representation (PR) is a good thing in this case. It used to be that every member state picked their own electoral system for electing their EP reps (MEPs). A friend of mine wrote a paper on it and found that because the UK was still uing a plurality system (like we have in the USA), something like 5,000 British voters could shift the majority in the EP. Now that the UK uses PR for their EP elections, the situation is more stable.

PR will also preserve the smaller parties. There is no reason to for a small party (like the Greens) to join with the larger Socialist parties because they get seats under the PR system. In the US or UK, small parties have incentive to drop out or merge because they can't get elected to anything otherwise.

US West said...

That is interesting. I guess I had the impression that small parties dissolve because I've seen it happen in France so much. Chirac has started 2 parties himself, with the RPR dissolving and morphing into something else whose name no one can remember now. Any yahoo with $5 bucks and a few friends can form a party- or so it seems. This is an exaggeration, but forming political parties that end up with seats is very easy in France. And just a footnote, 2 years ago (I believe) the National Assmebly switched to proportional representation, which is credited with having a role in boosting groups like the FN. But what counts is, as you correctly pointed out, the big picture and the long run. But it is evidence of how qickly things evolve when people turn from defining themselves by nationality to definition by ideology. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Bell Curve said...

My father-in-law, who is French, voted for the Esperanto party. You think that wasn't a protest vote? My poor wife didn't know who to vote for, as she had never heard of any of the names. It really is something that should be advertised a bit more...

Raised By Republicans said...

The Esperanto Party? I like that one. It's almost as good as the Polish Beer Drinkers' Party or the Danish politician/comedian in the 80s who ran on a platform calling for the army to be replaced with large billboards on all the beaches saying "We Surrender" in Danish and Russian with a toll free number to call in case of invasion (the number would reach a recording saying "we surrender" in Russian over and over on a loop).

I think the technical term for Frech political institutions is "funky." They seem to be fans of institutions that are neither fish nor fowl.

They have a "semi-Presidential" system that really behaves like a typical parliamentary system in which the President acts like a British PM when the President and Parliament are of the same party. When the President and Parliament are not of the same party the Prime Minister acts like a Prime Minister and the President is on the side lines (it's all about as clear as mud).

With regard to electoral politics, France has an equally non-committal system. Its neither PR nor Plurality. The closest anology I can think of is a US election with an open primary. A lot of US cities have something like French elections where the top two vote getters have a run off. The effects of the French system are actually something like the US/UK system in that small parties get shut out a lot (at least in the 2nd round). But the existance of that first round gives some fools hope for success and you get a lot of parties that exist only to negotiate deals with the larger parties for 2nd round representation in some fringe district somewhere.

Vive La France

The Law Talking Guy said...

The European Parliament would be stronger if the parties could wage pan-European campaigns over pan-European issues. This seems slow in developing. The European body politic is in its embryonic stages. In many ways, the EU resembles what the American founders thought the USA would be like (intense local loyalties). Here, federal nationalism developed rapidly. European "nationalism" (Europeanism?) is not here yet. The addition of ten new states will not help.

US West said...

RBR, the French system is perfectly clear. See, the President of the Republic handles all the foreign policy stuff and influences the Domestic stuff- much like our system. The Prime Minister handles all the domestic stuff- which in effect, provides a shield for President, especially when all the unions go up on arms over something. (Now if you want to talk confusing- consider the French worker's Unions!). The whole reason for going to proportional representation was to break the cohabitation cycle that has griped France for so long. It seems to have worked- for now. But it is no different, really, than having a Democratic president and a Republican Congress- where the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority leader control the agenda.

As for law guy's comment- good point. That was sort of what I was alluding to in my first comment. It will be interesting to see if Europe eventually rises above national border interests and develops a federalist mentality. It is sort of like watching US history play out on someone else’s stage. Pretty cool!

Raised By Republicans said...

Actually, you are mistaken about the President's dominance in foreign policy in France. During periods of "cohabitation" (in which the Pres and the PM are of different parties), France has at times sent BOTH the President and the PM to summits. The two then procede to contradict each other.

Even if there is an apperance of Presidential predominance in foreign policy, the real power is with control over the PM office: The foreign minister, the defense minister etc all answer to the PM not the President. Now, if the President is the leader of the PM's party, then the PM answers to the President.

US West said...

Umm . . . you're right and not right. Under the French System, the President dominates the foreign policy. The PM can agree or not. But it is the French president who is the commander of the military and he can call for parliamentary elections whenever he wants. It is the President who more greatly influences foreign policy. It is a type of separation of powers. He can also ask for the ministers to resign, which is what Chirac did in 1996 when he reconstituted the government. So he has some serious clout and plenty of ways to manipulate the parliamentary system.

Two things: 1. In Europe today, the traditional lines between domestic policy and foreign policy are blurred because European policy is, in effect now domestic. And we are in an era where separating the two is nearly impossible. So this will affect the powers of the President and the PM respectively.

2. Chirac is a special case because he has weakened the French presidency. The French attitude toward the presidency is changing- they are less reverent toward Chirac than they were toward Mitterrand (who was almost royal). This is partially because the Cold War is over and the French are seeing their benefits and relation to the government changing as EU integration deepens. Proof of this is the fact that Chirac was last elected without a mandate and under very odd conditions. And there have been more serious attempts to punish the French elites- example: The former health minister from the Mitterrand administration was put on trial for murder over the tainted blood affaire. This was unheard of in France until then. Chirac has been under investigation for the entirety if his administration for shady deals he made when mayor of Paris.

The last elections were also the first time that voters were choosing a President limited to 2 five year terms verses an unlimited number of 7 year terms. This will shift when coupled with proportional representation will change the power balance.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think you are half right about my being both right and wrong. I'm right 100%. ;- ) When the President and the PM are from the same party, the President dominates everything (foreign and domestic) but when the PM (and the parliamentary majority) are of parties that oppose the President, then things get trez funky with the PM having the institutional advantage. The current French Constituion (#5 in the last 200 years) is self-contradictory on this matter.

Title II, Article 15 of the French Constitution says that the President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. However, Title III, Article 21 says that the Prime Minister is "responsible for national defence" and also has the power to "make appointments to the civil service and military posts."

Furthermore, Title II, Article 20 says that the "Government" (which in European terms strictly means the Prime Minister and his cabinet) "shall have at its disposal the civil service and the armed forces."

To make matters more complicated, Title V, Article 35 says that declarations of war come only from a vote of the Parliament - since the Prime Minister must command the confidence of a majority of the Parliament to take his/her office, one would expect that if the President and Prime Minister disagreed about whether or not to go to War, the Prime Minister would be most likely to get his/her desired policy.

Continuing with the Revue de la Politique Funky: Title VI, Article 52 says that the President negotiates and ratifies treaties with other countries. However, Title VI, Article 53 makes the exception that any treaty that involves "Peace treaties, commercial treaties, treaties or agreements relating to international organization, those that commit the finances of the State, those that modify provisions which are matters for statute, those relating to the status of persons, and those that involve the cession, exchange or addition of territory, may be ratified or approved only by virtue of an Act of Parliament." So basically, the President has power regarding treaties that don't deal with anything of political, or financial substance and the rest of the power goes to Parliament - which, as I pointed out before, is lead by the Prime Minister.

Bell Curve said...

Wow, 11 comments! This Europe thing is a good idea -- it certainly keeps us popular.

I'm afraid RbR is right here. When there's cohabitation, the President has no power. He can dissolve the assemblee, sure, but what is that going to do for him? When the assemblee and the senat are with his party, however, he's a minor dictator (and he can declare himself a dictator if he has to). De Gaulle never envisioned cohabitation, so it isn't written into the constitution. He certainly would have given the president even more power had he considered it.

US West said...

AH, RBR is dazzling us with his research. Oh, and for the record, show off, I know the difference between the "government" and President of the Republic. ;-)

The funny thing about constitutions is that they explain how things are supposed to be done. How they are actually done is another story. We have this funky little law too, that says only Congress declares war. But we know how that really works, don't we? And we also have a Senate that votes on treaties and such. Once again, though, we know how that really works. Then there are back channels and boys clubs- especially in France. So if the French pres. wants to send the Foreign Legion out to fight, he will. He'll run Nuke tests when he wants. He can do all sorts of things. That having been said, cohabitation does seriously cramp is sytle, which is why we now have proportional representaiton in the French AN. This is supposed to make cohabitation less common. It seems to have worked, for now, anyway.

By the way, did you all hear how striking EdF workers cut power to Raffarin's vacation home to protest their possible privatization? One guy bragged, "We are taking his electricity counter with us now." Typical. In this country, they wouldn't have gotten that far. The secret service would have them arrested- even with the VEEP wasn't there!