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Federal Institutions in Brief

Institutions are the architecture of a political system. They define the roles that each one plays as well as interactions between the various actors. Upon them rests the democracy, transparency and efficiency of a political system.

At it currently stands, the European Union is a confederation. It is arguably an advanced form of confederation, but it still lacks the overarching, sovereign structure that defines federation. This absence means that decision-making usually proceeds by consensus and requires subsequent implementation by the member-States to take effect, resulting in slow and inefficient government. This system also allows more powerful States to impose their decisions, easily block other initiatives, and entrenches downward competition, where each States is encouraged to provide ever-greater tax breaks for the wealthy and lower social protection for those who need it.

Historically, confederations have all failed and have either broken into separated States or moved on to a federal model – such as the United States, Germany or Switzerland.

Global challenges, such as climate change or increased inequalities, and the rise of a multitude of strong players require us to put an end to this detrimental internal bickering and come together for our common benefit. The need to work for a better future is more important than to preserve an already-eroded sovereignty from the past; we must see the bigger picture and change both our institutions and our voting mechanisms.

Reformed institutions for more democracy, accountability and efficiency

The proposed European Constitution does just that and defines reformed institutions for a democratic, transparent and efficient government, as we already expect from our national institutions. We should expect no less from our European institutions.

Currently, the EU is multi-headed, with very asymmetrical power relationships between the branches of government and a detrimental interference of national executives in the EU law-making process.

  • The European Commission is the executive branch of the EU. Since the introduction of the “Spitzkandidaten” system in 2014, the nomination of its President is more closely linked to Parliamentary elections, but he remains nominated by the European Council, meaning by national executives. Furthermore, despite a provision in the Treaty of Lisbon, the size of the Commission must be that of the number of member-States to ensure exactly one Commissioner per member-State and commissioners are chosen by their respective States. This runs against basic principles of good governance, whereby the number of portfolios should reflect considerations of efficiency, and commissioners should be chosen for their merit and not their nationality.
  • The European Parliament is the directly-elected part of the EU’s legislative branch. MEPs represent the interests of the people and sit according to their political orientation and not their nationality. However, unlike a regular chamber, the European Parliament does not have the right to legislative initiative: it cannot seize itself of a topic that it deems important to citizens and draft a bill that could become law. Furthermore, MEPs are often elected at the national level, or in large electoral districts, and by lists, making them very remote from the people’s whose interest they should serve. As a results, MEPs have only a tenuous link to their constituents, and citizens hardly know their MEP.
  • The term “Council” actually covers two different, but related, organs. The European Council is made up of national executives – heads of States, heads of government. Despite its treaty-based role to provide strategic orientation, the European Council regularly gets involved in policy-making, making use of consensus decision, to the detriment of efficiency and to the involvement of directly-elected representatives. The Council of the European Union, or Council of Ministers, is made up of national ministers meeting in various configurations (when defence matters are discussed, ministers of defence gather). The Council of Ministers’ presidency rotates every six months.

Current EU institutions can therefore be summarised with the following chart.
Organisation chart of current EU institutions

As explained in the reasoning for a European Constitution, the EU has fallen short of its promise and duty. Part of the burden falls on these flawed institutions which perpetuate narrow national interests over EU-wide ones.

The proposed European Constitution overhauls these institutions for clearer, more transparent, democratic and responsive ones.

  • The legislative branch is bicameral, composed of a Parliament close to the current European Parliament and of a Senate.
    • Parliamentarians are elected by the people, for three years, and chosen at the local level and at the party level. When voting for MEPs, citizens vote twice: for local candidates and for the party of their choice. Member-States are divided in as many electoral districts as they have representatives (say, eight for Sweden), and each electoral district elects one Parliamentarian, much like we currently elect national Parliamentarians. Overall party proportionality is ensured by attributing seats to candidates on EU-wide party lists. This way, local constituencies have their own parliamentarian to represent their interest and Parliament also reflects the electorate’s true political preferences.
    • Senators are elected by the people, for six years, and chosen at the State level. Each member-State has two Senators. The Senate is elected by half every three years: one of a member-State’s Senator is elected in year X, the other in year X+3. Senators represents the interest of the people at the State level and provide balance for States with smaller populations.
  • The executive is composed of a President and a Cabinet of Federal Ministers, headed by a Prime Minister.
    • The President is elected by the people, for six years, and chosen at the level of the Union. The President works for the cohesion of the Union and is not involved in policy-making. Being elected by the people, he does not owe his position to a political party and is therefore above parties. He cannot be re-elected.
    • The Prime Minister is elected from and by Parliamentarian. He chooses his Cabinet of Federal Ministers and is in charge of implementing federal policies and laws.
  • The judiciary is composed of a Supreme Court and lower courts in charge of certain trials and of ensuring compatibility of State and federal law with the Constitution.

Proposed federal EU institutions can therefore be summarised with the following chart.

Organisation chart of federal EU institutions

New voting mechanisms for increased fairness and a constructive political dialogue

Beyond the institutions themselves, the modalities of the voting system are key determinants of democracy. Currently, EU citizens are not equal: criteria of age, citizenship, resident status and registration requirements differs from one country to the next. These differences of treatment for supposedly-common elections are damaging to a basic sense of fairness. Voting systems also differ between countries, with the only criteria being to have a proportional elections. As a results, some countries have national lists while others are split into large constituencies. In both cases, however, candidates are never elected at the local level in single-candidate constituencies. This contributes to a hard distance between citizens and their European officials who hardly know each other.

Current elections can be summed up with the following chart.

Current EU elections

We therefore propose a voting system that, at the same time, gives citizens a greater choice over their elected officials – through more elections and more local representatives – and streamlines the electoral process. Here are the broad strokes of the system we propose:

  • All EU citizens above 18 vote in the same manner, regardless of their residency;
  • Voting will take place on a single day every three years, for more regular elections without living in constant electoral campaigns (there are no special elections interrupting regular political life and the duration of campaign is strictly limited);
  • Citizens concurrently choose their local representative (the Parliamentarian; every three years), their State representative (the Senator; elected by half every three years), and their Union representative (the President; every six years), for increased representativeness;
  • Voting for senatorial and presidential elections is done by majority judgment, a simple and innovating method of voting which prevents strategic voting and avoids regular voting paradoxes.Voting for parliamentarian elections combines majority judgment with a vote for a political party to ensure proportional representation.

Accordingly, here are a presentation of the electoral calendar and a summary of the proposed elections.

Electoral Calendar

European Elections - Federal

Majority judgement is favoured over the traditional first-by-the-post voting system, where candidates can win with a small fraction of the vote and be favoured over much more consensual candidates. By contrast, majority judgment allows a much fuller representation of people’s opinion than the simple choice of one candidate. By design, it prevents strategic voting and encourages an honest assessment of the candidates by citizens.

In first-by-the-post systems, two candidates with close political opinions running concurrently compete for votes and damage each other’s chances. Since majority judgment assesses each candidate separately, it avoids this pitfall. Majority judgment also prevents the emergence of a damaging two-party system and the subsequent polarisation of political opinions into two opposite camps. As such, it supports a much more mature and diverse political debate. More details can be found in our Q&A.

As indicated above, parliamentary elections combine majority judgment with party proportionality. It does that by allowing citizens to vote for local candidates and for their party representation. This is essential, as it prevents a single party from obtaining a huge majority in Parliament simply by winning with short majorities locally. With this system, citizens have at the same time their own local representation and the guarantee that the electorate’s political preferences will be found in Parliament.

The following illustration shows the constitution of Parliament as well as a proposed voting card for Parliamentary elections.

Parliament composition and voting card

A dedicated electoral law adopted by Congress will further define elections, in order to make the details more flexible than if they required constitutional amendments to be changed. This electoral law can include further useful provisions, including the method of apportionment of seats among States (for which we support the Webster/Sainte-Laguë method), thresholds for party representation in Parliament (in terms of party percentage or number of direct representatives obtained), the ability to vote for one party or split one’s vote among several parties, as well as a requirement for gender-alternate party lists, which would go a long way in supporting gender equality in Parliament.

Overall, these institutions allow for much clearer roles, not only between the branches of government, but also between the State and federal levels. Member-States have their State executive, legislative and judicial branches; the Union has its federal executive, legislative and judicial branches. And just local governments are often represented in one of the chambers of the executive at the State level, State interests are represented in the Senate at the federal level.

Each political and institutional system embodies a value and benefits a group. The current EU system embodies the primacy of national sovereignty – by emphasising consensus – and benefits the most powerful States and companies and individuals who play on member-States’ divisions and competition. Our proposed federal system embodies democracy and benefits EU citizens as a whole. It adapts the transparency and efficiency we seek at the State level at the heart of our EU institutions, and finally brings together the European Union and EU citizens everywhere.