The European Union (EU) is facing a deep political crisis. With increasing pressure coming from the refugee crisis, with an in-or-out referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU approaching and with the risk for the Schengen area of dissolving, the EU’s political integration process is once again called into question.
As Eurobarometer data for the last decade shows, the percentage of citizens believing that the EU membership is not benefiting their country is on the increase along with the number of individuals who feel ‘mistrust’ and ‘anxiety’ towards the EU. In the eyes of European citizens, the EU is often seen as a remote institution, which lacks the political will to reform and make a difference in their daily lives. For years, European leaders have blamed ‘Brussels’ for their troubles at home and criticised its ‘behind-closed-doors’ decision-making process. Consequently, citizens’ engagement and participation in European politics has progressively been dropping as shown by the trend of voter turnout at the European Parliament elections, because they feel like their voice is not being heard.
Two issues have been identified by the 1989 Generation Initiative as significantly contributing to the EU’s lack of legitimacy. On the one hand, the lobbying industry is inadequately regulated and largely dominated by the most resourceful multinationals. They have greater access to decision-makers to promote their interests and as a result, lobbying activities are mostly confined to the same portfolios such as Energy, Digital Economy and Financial Markets. On the other hand, the Spitzenkandidaten system used in the 2014 European elections has shown signs that campaign personalisation increases voter turnout. However, several problems hampered the last elections and need to be adjusted. The process of nomination of the President of the European Commission needs more visibility, more authority and a greater European dimension to fully reach its potential.
The 1989 Generation Initiative has elaborated two policy proposals that aim to improve the transparency, accountability and representativeness of the European Union.
We call for the introduction of a mandatory register of lobbying activity applicable to all EU institutions (European Parliament, European Council and the European Commission) to increase transparency in the dealings between EU decision makers and outside interests. In the new system, all human resources and capital invested in lobbying by registrants will need to be declared as well as additional information about involvement in EU committees, forums, intergroups or similar structures. The objective is to create a ‘legislative footprint’ that include public records of all meetings and external inputs during the legislative consultation process. In practice, the ‘Transparency Register Secretariat’ will be attributed additional resources and will be in charge of managing the register, of running checks and of imposing sanctions whenever the rules are infringed.
By making the institutions more transparent and holding actors responsible for their actions and decisions, the EU will earn the support and trust of its citizens. In the words of the European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans “It is just as important to enable citizens to know who we meet and why, as it is for the Commission to maintain an open and regular dialogue with stakeholders”. Moreover, the more open the EU decision-making process is, the easier it is to ensure balanced representation and avoid undue pressure and illegitimate or privileged access to information and decision-makers. We believe this reform will encourage a larger variety of external actors to get involved.
Transparency, accountability and representativeness are fundamental to encourage European citizens to participate more actively in the political life of the EU. To this aim, we also propose the direct election of the European Commission (EC) President. By fully incorporating the Spitzenkandidaten procedure in the European Parliament (EP) elections, the candidate of the majority parliamentary group will automatically be appointed as the president of the EC. Such a revolutionary institutional reform will enable European citizens to hold both the EP majority parliamentary group and the president of the EC accountable for their actions and to sanction or reward them every five years. The message we advocate is the importance to give European citizens a voice in deciding the direction of the EU and ensuring that this reflects the will of European citizens. As the candidates for EC president will be elected on the basis of their European parliamentary group and political standings, citizens will be better able to better understand the programmes of candidates and make an informed decision about the future of the EU, being less vulnerable to populist rhetoric.
With these two reform proposals, we envisage that the ‘access to voice’ and ‘access to information’ to all European citizens will be fundamentally boosted. This is a critical step forward to enable European citizens to engage with EU politics and fully be part of the European project.