Understanding the d’Hondt method: Allocation of parliamentary seats and leadership positions [Policy Podcast]

Written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva,

© fabioberti.it / Fotolia

The allocation of seats in collegiate organs such as parliaments requires a method to translate votes proportionally into whole seats. The ‘d’Hondt method’ is a mathematical formula used widely in proportional representation systems, although it leads to less proportional results than other systems for seat allocation such as the Hare-Niemeyer and Sainte-Laguë/Schepers methods. Moreover, it tends to increase the advantage for the electoral lists gaining most votes to the detriment of those with fewer votes. It is, however, effective in facilitating majority formation and thus in securing parliamentary operability.

The d’Hondt method is used by 16 EU Member States for the elections to the European Parliament. Furthermore, it is also used within the Parliament as a formula for distributing the chairs of the parliamentary committees and delegations, as well as to distribute those posts among the national delegations within some political groups. Such proportional distribution of leadership positions within Parliament prevents domination of parliamentary political life by only one or two large political groups, ensuring smaller political groups also have a say on the political agenda. Some argue however that this limits the impact of the election results on the political direction of decision-making within Parliament and call for a ‘winner-takes-all’ approach instead.

Many national parliaments in the EU also distribute committee chairs and other posts proportionally among political groups (either using the d’Hondt method or more informally). Other Member States, however, apply a ‘winner-takes-more’ approach with only some committee chairs with particular relevance to government scrutiny being reserved for opposition groups, while in the US House of Representatives committee chairs have to come from the majority party.

Read the complete Briefing on ‘Understanding the d’Hondt method: Allocation of parliamentary seats and leadership positions‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/13/understanding-the-dhondt-method-allocation-of-parliamentary-seats-and-leadership-positions-policy-podcast/

EU policies – Delivering for citizens: Regional policy [Policy Podcast]

Written by Vasileios Margaras and Christiaan Van Lierop,

New modern double cable-stayed bridge over Vistula River in Krakow, Poland. Part of the ring motorway around Krakow under construction. Aerial view at sunset. Sedzimir Steel mill in the background.

© kilhan / Fotolia

The principal aim of the EU’s regional policy, also known as cohesion policy, is to address the territorial, social and economic imbalances that exist between the different regions of the EU. Regional policy covers all regions and cities of the European Union, helping to support job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth, sustainable development, and to improve citizens’ quality of life. To achieve these goals and address the diverse development needs in all EU regions, €351.8 billion – almost one third of the total EU budget – has been set aside for cohesion policy for the 2014-2020 period. This financial support is distributed through two main funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF). Together with the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), they make up the European structural and investment (ESI) funds, which provide support that can make a real difference to the lives of people in the EU’s regions.

With the current programming period (2014-2020) drawing to a close, work is now under way on planning the cohesion policy priorities for the next programming period (2021-2027). During its 2014-2019 term the European Parliament has been called upon numerous times to adopt new legislative acts, amend older rules and to provide opinions on many topics relating to the EU’s regional policy. Within the European Parliament, the Committee on Regional Policy is responsible for the Union’s regional development and cohesion policy, as set out in the Treaties.

In anticipation of its expected withdrawal from the EU, the UK, until now a net contributor to the EU budget, will no longer contribute to the post-2020 EU budget, which means that the EU will have fewer resources to allocate to its policies in the future, including cohesion policy. The European Parliament has, however, strongly advocated maintaining the level of funding for cohesion policy at its current level or even increasing it.

Read the complete Briefing on ‘EU policies – Delivering for citizens: Regional policy‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/13/eu-policies-delivering-for-citizens-regional-policy-policy-podcast/

European elections: A historical perspective

Written by Christian Salm,

© European Communities

Between 23 and 26 May 2019, 427 million European Union (EU) citizens had the opportunity to vote for Members of the European Parliament. This was the ninth time that EU citizens could vote directly for the policy- and decision-makers who will represent them in EU politics. European elections are consequently one of the most important events in the EU political cycle. With a view to this year’s European election and challenges to come for the new Parliament, many EU observers attached special historical significance to this ninth European election. Looking back, while the very first European election was held forty years ago, in 1979, the journey to holding European elections was long and complex.

No democratisation without participation

Participation is a central element of democratic systems. Of all the possibilities for political participation, a direct election is the strongest instrument for citizens’ involvement in politics. In 1952, when the predecessor to today’s European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), was inaugurated as the political authority representing citizens within the newly developing supranational political system of European integration, it seemed self-evident that it should be directly elected. The 1951 Paris Treaty, establishing the ECSC, and the 1957 Rome Treaty, creating the European Economic Community (EEC) and providing the historical framework for the present-day EU, therefore specified direct elections to the assembly first as an option and then as a constitutional obligation. Until 1979, however, instead of citizens directly electing Members, each of the EEC Member States’ national parliaments appointed their representatives. Called European Parliament since 1962, the body’s democratisation had fallen short of the claim formulated in the Treaties. Subsequent concepts of the future political design of European integration therefore demanded the organisation of European direct elections, to fulfil the requirement of democratisation.

Long journey to European elections

Shortly after the signature of the Rome Treaty, the new EEC Assembly’s Committee on Political Affairs and Institutional Matters created a working group, tasked to draft a report on direct elections. In May 1960, based on the working group’s preliminary findings, the EEC Assembly voted on a draft convention on direct elections, prepared by Fernand Dehousse, a Belgian Member. It proposed an assembly of 426 Members (three times more than the existing EEC Assembly), elected by direct vote, for a term of five years. To garner support for its draft convention, the Assembly argued that the process of European integration could not succeed without direct citizen participation. However, the EEC Council of Ministers did not reach a decision on the draft, due to reluctance on the part of the French Government.

Later statements took up the Assembly’s arguments for holding direct elections. In 1972, a report on the Parliament’s future development by a European Commission working group, headed by the French law professor, Georges Vedel, stated: ‘The introduction of direct elections would considerably contribute to the Community’s democratisation and consequently, to its authentication, its legitimacy’. Updating the Parliament’s 1960 draft convention, a new draft, prepared in 1974, by the Dutch Member, Schelto Patijn on behalf of the Parliament’s Political Affairs Committee, emphasised that: ‘the process of European unification cannot succeed without the direct participation of the people affected’. Parliament therefore considered ‘direct universal suffrage as an indispensable element in achieving further progress towards integration and establishing a better equilibrium between the Community institutions on a democratic basis’. Likewise, the report on a concept of a European Union, by the Belgium Prime Minister, Leo Tindemans, published in 1975, argued that direct elections would give the Parliament a new political authority. Moreover, Tindemans’ report made clear that direct election to the Parliament, alongside the strengthening of the entire political and institutional framework of the Community, should figure among the long-term goals of European integration.

Electoral Act

The first big step on the journey to European direct elections was taken when, in September 1976, 16 years after the Parliament had first submitted proposals for European elections, the Council of Ministers issued the Act concerning the election of the Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage. Largely based on the Parliament’s 1974 draft convention, the Act set the number of Members of Parliament at 410. Furthermore, it confirmed a future uniform electoral procedure for all Member States, but without indicating a clear schedule for its implementation. In that respect, the Act contradicted the Parliament’s 1960 draft convention, but was in line with the 1974 draft convention, which was less ambitious and demanded a lower level of electoral uniformity across the Member States.

Crucially, direct elections were closely connected to the issue of extending the Parliament’s powers. To give meaning to the expected democratisation through European elections, substantially increasing the Parliament’s powers seemed imperative. The question was how best to organise this democratisation: by holding European elections first, and then increasing the Parliament’s powers, or the other way around. Parliamentary debates revealed a circular reasoning regarding the problem; however, the dominant opinion that emerged was that the Parliament would need to secure democratic legitimacy by holding direct elections first and then obtain more powers. On that basis, the Parliament demanded timely ratification of the Act by the Member States. The Council of Ministers decided that European elections should be held for the first time on a common date in 1978.

First European election, 1979

Despite the Council’s plan to hold elections in 1978, the first direct European election took place in 1979, as it was impossible for some Member States to adopt the relevant electoral laws in time for the election to take place earlier. A milestone in European integration history was reached when 180 million European citizens were called to vote for Members of the Parliament in June 1979. High-ranking politicians, such as the former German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, the leader of the Italian Communist Party, Enrico Berlinguer, and the former French Minister of Health, Simone Veil, stood for election. The turnout in the first European election was around 63 %. Based on the election result, seven political groups were constituted at the Parliament’s opening session in July 1979. The Members voted for Simone Veil to become the first President of the first directly elected European Parliament. A Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Veil’s election can be seen as a symbolic stand against the nationalism that was one of the causes of the First and Second World Wars.

Building EU legitimacy and identity

With the introduction of European elections in 1979, the European Parliament is the world’s first international parliament representing a democratic system based on the element of participation that allows the greatest citizen involvement in politics. Held in five-year cycles over the past 40 years, direct elections have contributed both to deepening European integration and to strengthening the EU’s legitimacy. Despite its complexity, the EU’s decision-making systems are democratic, thanks in part to the directly elected Members of the Parliament. Moreover, in the last four decades, the Parliament has changed and developed enormously, gaining far-reaching legislative powers.

European elections 1984 to 2019

Alongside the constant increase in Parliament’s powers, however, turnout in European elections has persistently declined. While in the 1984 election the turnout, at 61 %, was close to the turnout in the first election, it fell to a historic low of 42 % in 2014. Over the years, European elections have also encountered political and institutional developments. For instance, the 2014 election introduced the Spitzenkandidaten process‘, an approach whereby European political parties nominate their lead candidate ahead of the European elections, and the largest party after the election is considered to have a mandate to provide the Commission President.

In the 2019 European election, the turnout, at 51 %, increased for the first time since the first direct election in 1979, and reached the highest level of the last 20 years. In other words, more than 50 % of EU citizens eligible to vote took part in the election, making it the largest transnational election ever held. The electoral issues in the 2019 election, such as economic, monetary and environmental policy, did not differ significantly from those in past elections. In 1989, for example, environmental issues, especially water and air quality, were a clear common theme, just as climate protection issues figured largely in this year’s election.

European elections: a core element of EU’s political identity based on democracy

The EU’s political identity today is strongly rooted in the value of democratic principles. While the 1957 Rome Treaty did not mention democracy as a value underpinning the movement towards a ‘closer union’, democracy today forms a fundamental tenet of EU self-identification. In fact, the debates on holding European direct elections in the 1960s and 1970s widely contributed to defining the EU’s political identity as based on democracy. Introduced with the first European election in 1979, EU citizens’ right to vote for the Members of the Parliament is a core element of the EU’s democratic system.

Read this ‘At a glance’ on ‘European elections: A historical perspective‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/06/european-elections-a-historical-perspective/

Rules on political groups in the EP

Written by Laura Tilindyte,

© Fox / Fotolia

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) may form political groups; these are organised not by nationality, but by political affiliation. Since the first direct elections in 1979, the number of political groups has fluctuated between seven and ten. Following the 2019 elections, the number, size and composition of political groups is likely to continue to fluctuate, as a result of the possible dissolution of some political groups and the creation of new ones.

To form a political group, a minimum of 25 MEPs, elected in at least one quarter (currently seven) of the EU’s Member States is required. Those Members who do not belong to any political group are known as ‘non-attached’ (non-inscrits) Members.

Although the political groups play a very prominent role in Parliament’s life, individual MEPs and/or several MEPs acting together, also have many rights, including in relation to the exercise of oversight over other EU institutions, such as the Commission. However, belonging to a political group is of particular relevance when it comes to the allocation of key positions in Parliament’s political and organisational structures, such as committee and delegation chairs and rapporteurships on important dossiers. Moreover, political groups receive higher funding for their collective staff and parliamentary activities than the non-attached MEPs.

Political group funding, however, is distinct from funding granted to European political parties and foundations, which, if they comply with the requirements to register as such, may apply for funding from the European Parliament.

This briefing updates an earlier one, of June 2015, by Eva-Maria Poptcheva.

Read the complete Briefing on ‘Rules on political groups in the EP‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/05/rules-on-political-groups-in-the-ep/

Demographic outlook for the European Union 2019

Written by David Eatock,

© European Union, 2017 – EPRS

Demography matters. The economy, labour market, healthcare, pensions, the environment, intergenerational fairness and election results – they are all driven by demography. The European Union (EU) has seen its population grow substantially – by around a quarter since 1960 – and it currently stands at over 500 million people. However, the world population has grown faster, more than doubling over the same timeframe and reaching nearly 7.4 billion today. And whilst the EU population is now growing only slowly and is even expected to decline in the longer term, the world population continues to grow strongly. Indeed, it is projected to pass 10 billion in 2055. And despite its growth being expected to slow, the world population is nonetheless forecast to be over 11 billion people in 2100. So, the EU represents an ever-shrinking proportion of the world population, at just 6.9 % today (down from 13.5 % in 1960), and is projected to fall further to just 4.1 % by the end of this century.

In common with many other developed (and developing) parts of the world, the EU population is also ageing, as life expectancy increases and fertility rates drop compared to the past. At the EU level, both men and women have seen their average life expectancy increase by over 10 years between the early 1960s and today, although women continue to live longer than men on average. Meanwhile, the numbers of children being born has fallen from an EU‑28 average of around 2.5 children per woman in 1960, to a little under 1.6 today. This is far below the 2.1 births per woman considered necessary in developed countries to maintain the population in the long term, in the absence of migration. Indeed, migration has become increasingly important for expanding or maintaining the EU population. In both 2015 and 2017, the natural population change (live births minus deaths) was slightly negative, and net inward migration was therefore key to the population growth seen in those years.

Combined, these trends result in a dramatically ageing EU-28, whose working population (aged 15 to 64) shrank for the first time in 2010 and is expected to decline every year to 2060. In contrast, the proportion of people aged 80 or over in the EU-28 population is expected to more than double by 2050, reaching 11.4 %. In 2006, there were four people of working age (15-64) for each person aged 65 or over; by 2050, this ratio is projected to be just two people. This outlook is essentially set in the shorter term, at least, meaning the focus is on smoothing the transition to an older population and adapting to its needs.

Whilst the starting point, speed and scale of ageing varies between the Member States depending on their different fertility rates, life expectancy and migration levels, all will see further ageing in the coming years. Free movement, as well as external migration, will also play a role, in both the population size and age profile of countries, and regions within them. The ‘in-focus’ section of this edition looks at pension systems and how they are being impacted by demographic change. It highlights that national reforms have largely successfully addressed issues around the sustainability of pension systems in the face of ageing populations. However, concerns remain about the adequacy of pensions for certain groups, including some women and older pensioners, and in particular the situation of future pensioners. For the latter, much will depend on the success of efforts to encourage and enable longer working lives, balancing longer life expectancy.

Read the complete ‘In-depth Analysis’ on ‘Demographic outlook for the European Union 2019‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/04/demographic-outlook-for-the-european-union-2019/

Peace and security in 2019

World Map: Normandy Index

© peshkov / Fotolia

The very first stated goal of the European Union is to promote peace. What began as a project seeking peaceful relations between its members, has become one of the principal global actors in favour of peace and security. On the eve of the commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings, the European Parliament is participating in the Normandy Global Peace Forum, held in Caen, Normandy on 4 and 5 June 2019. The European Parliamentary Research Service is contributing to the Forum with several studies on peace and security in the world, and the role of the European Union, including: an overview of EU action in favour of peace and security in 2019 and the outlook for the future; a study on the peace and reconciliation process in Colombia; and a new mapping of threats to peace and democracy worldwide, as an introduction to the ‘Normandy Index’.

Presented for the first time at the 2019 Normandy Global Peace Forum, the ‘Normandy Index’ was developed in cooperation with the Institute for Economics and Peace, and as a result of a formal agreement with the region of Normandy, and aims to provide a better analysis of the risks to peace worldwide. This paper sets out the initial findings of the 2019 exercise, complemented by 25 individual country case studies, derived from the Index. It explains how the index can be used to compare peace – defined on the basis of a given country’s performance against a range of predetermined threats – across countries and regions.

Rather than being limited to a simple measure of the lack of conflict on the territory concerned, which could merely give an illusion of stability, the index measures the risks to peace. These threats include climate change, economic crisis, energy dependence, state fragility, the homicide rate, press freedom, and the quality of the democratic process, as well as the incidence of terrorism, armed conflict and the presence of weapons of mass destruction. To illustrate the method, 25 specific case studies focus on countries that have seen both a rise and a fall in the threat to peace. The examples highlight the EU contribution in terms of development, democracy support, economic cooperation, and peacekeeping operations. Through the measurement of each threat, the index identifies those countries where peace is most fragile, and consequently vulnerable to threat. It is in these regions that EU foreign policy could prioritise diplomatic means of reinforcing resilience to prevent the outbreak of conflict. In contributing to current thinking regarding the situation in 136 countries, the ‘Normandy Index’ measurement of this wider range of threats enables Members of the European Parliament, experts and the wider public to obtain a more nuanced view of the state of peace in the world.

To analyse and explain the European Union contribution to the promotion of peace and security internationally, through its various external policies, a second edition of the EU Peace and Security Outlook provides an overview of the issues and current state of play. It looks first at the concept of peace and the changing nature of the geopolitical environment. It then focuses on the centrality of the promotion of peace and security in the EU’s external action and proceeds to an analysis of the practical pursuit of these principles in the main areas of EU policy: development, democracy support, and security and defence, as well as in the increasingly relevant area of disinformation and foreign influence. The study concludes with an outlook for the future.

A parallel study focuses specifically on EU peacebuilding efforts in Colombia. The study evaluates EU engagement during the 50-year conflict in Colombia, and focuses on peacebuilding since the historic 2016 final agreement between the government and the main armed group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). This is a country where the EU has mobilised a large spectrum of civilian instruments: bilateral and multilateral diplomacy; humanitarian and development aid; and trade relations. After placing the conflict in its geopolitical context, this evaluation analyses the EU approach to and implementation of support to peace in Colombia, the European Parliament’s contribution, risks since the signature of the peace agreement, and ways to mitigate them.


Mapping threats to peace and democracy worldwide: Introduction to the Normandy Index

Mapping threats to peace and democracy worldwide: Introduction to the Normandy Index

Threats to peace and security in the current global environment

Threats to peace and security in the current global environment

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/03/peace-and-security-in-2019/

Peace and Security in 2019: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future

Written by Elena Lazarou,

© fotomaster / Fotolia

The promotion of global peace and security is a fundamental goal and central pillar of the external action of the European Union (EU), following the model of its own peace project. Both within and beyond the EU, there is a widespread expectation among citizens that the Union will deliver results in this crucial area. Yet the deteriorating security environment of the past decade has posed significant challenges. Following the release of its Global Strategy in 2016, and in line with the wording and spirit of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has been intensifying its work in pursuit of peace and security in a number of key policy areas. In this respect, 2018 was a year of implementation and of transforming vision into action.

According to some academics, the world has become more peaceful in recent centuries. Europe in particular has experienced the longest period of peace in its history, not least thanks to a regional network of international organisations, of which the EU is a major example. Today, peace is defined in a positive way, not only as ‘the absence of war’, but also in terms of quality of government, free flow of information and low levels of corruption. In this context, of the 39 most peaceful countries in the world, based on the 2017 Global Peace Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace, 22 are EU Member States. Nevertheless, the instability that currently characterises the geopolitical environment has translated into a sharp deterioration of peace in the EU’s neighbourhood and has challenged its internal security. In addition, multilateralism, a core element in the EU’s foreign policy and identity and a cornerstone of its approach to peace and security, is under increasing pressure from alternative value systems and ideologies.

The over-arching objectives of the EU guide it in all facets of its activity in this area, including common foreign and security policy (CFSP); democracy support; development cooperation; economic, financial and technical cooperation; humanitarian aid; trade; and neighbourhood policy. As envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty, the 2016 Global Strategy introduced several elements to refine and improve the EU’s efforts, including the promotion of resilience and capacity-building in the world. This approach is reflected in the EU’s external policies.

As far as development is concerned, a significant share of EU aid goes to fragile states and to issues related to securing peace. In 2017, the EU committed to a ‘new consensus on development’ that emphasises the role of development cooperation in preventing violent conflicts, mitigating their consequences and aiding recovery from them. The new consensus clearly focuses on fragile and conflict-affected countries, which are the main victims of humanitarian crises. On the ground, the EU has been able to strengthen the nexus between security, development and humanitarian aid through the implementation of comprehensive strategies, for example in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel.

With progress made by means of permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), the European Defence Fund and other such initiatives, 2018 was marked by the continuation of efforts to build a more autonomous and efficient EU common security and defence policy (CSDP). Of all the policy fields in the area of peace and security, this is the one that has enjoyed the greatest support from EU citizens (75 %) for more EU spending. Through the CSDP, the EU also runs 16 missions and operations, making it one of the UN’s main partners in peacekeeping. These elements of ‘hard power’, together with the EU’s long-standing experience in the practice of soft power, form the backbone of its action for peace and security. New elements strengthening the EU’s security and defence capabilities, launched under the outgoing EU Commission and European Parliament legislature, including the initiatives in the area of European defence research and development, are boosting the EU’s capacity to work for peace and security.

Looking to the future, the global environment is expected to grow in complexity. New threats such as cyber-attacks, disinformation and foreign influence campaigns demand new types of multifaceted responses. As the mandate of the current European Commission and the current European Parliament draw to a close, the legislation adopted is evidence that the EU has made significant progress in furthering its aim to strengthen its presence and efficiency in the area of peace and security. The proposals for the post-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF), which focus on streamlining the EU’s various programmes and instruments, allow for sufficient flexibility to respond to unforeseen threats while also implementing innovative financial instruments. However, the final adoption of the 2021-2027 MFF will take place under the next European Parliament after the European elections of May 2019. Underlying the quest for flexibility, efficiency and innovation is the strategic goal of empowering the EU in its global role as a promoter of peace and security, while adapting to the new realities of the international order and the rapid technological, environmental and societal changes of our times.

Read the complete study on ‘Peace and Security in 2019: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Threats to peace and security in the current global environment

Threats to peace and security in the current global environment


Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/03/peace-and-security-in-2019-overview-of-eu-action-and-outlook-for-the-future/

Outcome of the informal dinner of Heads of State or Government on 28 May 2019

Written by Suzana Anghel with Simon Schroecker,

EU leaders met to consider the outcome of the European Parliament elections, and to start the appointment process to high-level EU positions ahead of the June 2019 European Council. They discussed the principles that would guide their action, and mandated the European Council President, Donald Tusk, to begin consultations with the Parliament. EU leaders reiterated their February 2018 position on the absence of automaticity between a role as lead candidate and the European Council nomination for President of the European Commission. They discussed the balance that needs to be found, but did not discuss any names. The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, stressed the parliamentary majority’s attachment to the Spitzenkandidaten process.


At the Sibiu Summit, Donald Tusk had announced his intention to convene the EU leaders on 28 May. The objectives of the meeting would be threefold: to take stock of the election results, to discuss the principles and method for nominating high-level EU officials, and to ‘start the nomination process’.

European Parliament election results

EU leaders took stock of the results of the elections. They welcomed the high turnout (over 50 %), and stressed that it was the highest in European elections in a quarter of a century. They also noted that the bi-party system that has characterised the Parliament since the first direct elections in 1979 has given way to a more diverse hemicycle, in which there is need to form alliances of at least three political forces to ensure a majority. President Tusk spoke of a ‘more complex’ and ‘more representative’ parliament.

Principles guiding the European Council in the appointment of high-level officials

The Lisbon Treaty set two main principles – respect for ‘geographical and demographic diversity’ – as a basis for the appointments of the Presidents of the European Council, European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. President Tusk recalled those principles in Sibiu and added two more: gender balance and political representation. EU leaders confirmed their support for these principles as well as their position of 23 February 2018 rejecting any automaticity in applying the Spitzenkandidaten process. Some of them stressed that it is fundamental to have a clear view on what the EU wishes to achieve in the next five years in several policy areas, including climate, the economy and security, prior to considering who to appoint to different top positions. Others indicated that they would prefer to see a Commission President who is ‘young, dynamic and with a lot of power’.

Figure 1: Overview of high-level office-holders since the 2009 EP elections

Overview of high-level office-holders since the 2009 EP elections

‘Package’ approach for top nominations

Four top-level EU positions – the presidency of the European Council, the presidency of the European Commission and the position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as the presidency of the European Central Bank – are being considered, at this stage, as a ‘package’. President Tusk confirmed the ‘package’ approach but mentioned that the ‘ECB is not for party competition’. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, said that he would favour not including the appointment of the ECB President in the global ‘package’.

The nomination process

The nomination process comprises three phases, as shown in Figure 2. The first phase, a period of reflection on the principles that will guide EU leaders in the nomination process, led to the emergence of diverging views between the European Parliament and the European Council with respect to the Spitzenkandidaten process. The European Parliament stated in two resolutions, in 2018 and 2019, its support for the Spitzenkandidaten process, whilst the 27 Heads of State or Government have rejected any automaticity in applying it.

Figure 2: Timeline of the high-level appointments process

Timeline of the high-level appointments process

The 28 May 2019 special meeting of Heads of State or Government opened the second phase of the nomination process, a period of consultations. This second phase is intended to last until the June 2019 European Council meeting, when a ‘package’ agreement on top nominations is expected. Timely delivery on the ‘package’ agreement depends on the ability of both the European Council and the Parliament to overcome inter- and intra-institutional divergences of views on the Spitzenkandidaten process. If no consensus is reached in the consultation phase, it is likely that, as announced several times by President Tusk, the European Council will have to proceed to a vote by qualified majority. President Tusk said that he has ‘offered to meet the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents as soon as they are ready’ to start the consultation process and that, in parallel, he will continue consultations with EU leaders.

The third phase of the nomination process opens in early July 2019 with the election of the European Parliament’s president. The ability to stay on course and to avoid several votes in Parliament for the election of the Commission President will depend on finding consensus during consultations.

European Parliament position

President Tajani underlined the Parliament’s support for the Spitzenkandidaten process. The Conference of Presidents considered the Parliament the ‘legitimate place for the mandate for change to be debated and defined’. Together with the European Council’s next Strategic Agenda, the Parliament’s ‘mandate for change’ could form ‘a solid base for renewed priorities’ for the next European Commission.

The way forward

In a situation of persistent deadlock on the package, EU leaders may be able to nominate the next European Council President in June 2019, or at the latest in September. However, until agreement is found on the candidate for European Commission President, it will also be difficult to nominate the next High Representative. The appointment of the next ECB President could also be possible in June.

Read this ‘At a glance’ on ‘Outcome of the informal dinner of Heads of State or Government on 28 May 2019‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/03/outcome-of-the-informal-dinner-of-heads-of-state-or-government-on-28-may-2019/

Understanding the European Parliament’s History: How the Parliament of the 1950s and 1960s shaped our institution today

Written by Mitja Brus with Elena Maggi,

EPRS - Understanding EP History: How the Parliament of the 1950s has shaped our institution today

On 8 May, the eve of the anniversary of the Schumann Declaration, the European Parliamentary Research Service animated the Library reading room with a fascinating conversation between Koen van Zon, presenting his doctoral research findings on the Parliament of the 1950s and 1960s for Radboud University Nijmegen, and Martin Westlake, currently Visiting Professor at the College of Europe and the London School of Economics.

After a warm welcome, EPRS Director General, Anthony Teasdale, introduced the lecture’s core question: whether there is a resilient European Parliament ‘DNA’ – that is, an ensemble of behavioural inclinations intrinsic to the nature of this institution since its first inception.

According to Van Zon, the European Coal and Steel Community’s (ECSC) Common Assembly, which later became the European Economic Community’s Common Assembly, already displayed three resilient behavioural attitudes that were instrumental to the development of Parliament’s history. Van Zon decodes this ‘DNA’ as based on three principles he calls:

  1. ‘Claim to speak on behalf of the people’;
  2. ‘Call yourself a parliament, and act like one’;
  3. ‘Don’t try to change the rules, change the costumes instead’.

Rather than undertaking an historical analysis of the Parliament’s life story, Van Zon took a more diachronic approach. Indeed, when retracing the main determinant events in the Parliament’s history, the author underlined how these three behavioural attitudes were already and simultaneously at work in the process of becoming a European Parliament. In particular the customary strategy (i.e. ‘don’t try to change the rules, change the costumes instead’), came to constitute the Parliament’s modus operandi in its ambition to obtain the attributes of any other liberal democratic parliament: direct elections, budgetary and legislative power.

Van Zon noted that, since its very inception in 1952, the Common Assembly was already ‘claiming to speak on behalf of the people’. When asked by Adenauer to draft a ‘constitution’ laying the foundations of a political community, there was no clear legal foundation for the Common Assembly to function as ‘constitutive assembly’. However, it was exactly by a customary strategy, in their interpretation of the treaty base, that the Members, most of whom were experienced constitutionalists, could act to realise a more ambitious mandate.

The first meeting, in 1958, of the newly formed Joint Assembly of the three European Communities, is another example of the Members’ ambition to ‘change the rules by changing the costumes’. Indeed, their first approved resolution was to rename the Common Assembly as the ‘European Parliamentary Assembly’, that is, in Van Zon’s words, ‘to call themselves a Parliament’. Furthermore, regardless of the Council’s non-recognition of this very symbolic name, the Members continued to operate under the name of ‘European Parliamentary Assembly’ until the name was formally recognised in the 1987 Single European Act.

The first direct election in 1979 has long been interpreted as a ‘turning point’, marking an irreversible shift in the life of the institution. However, as Van Zon and Professor Westlake argued, this event was simply the accomplishment of a long process. Direct elections can therefore be seen as an extraordinary event in the process of the Parliament’s efforts ‘to start acting’ as a transnational, rather than an international, assembly. They are the result of almost 30 years of Members’ contribution to setting the European agenda, claiming to ‘speak on behalf of the people’, and renaming their assembly the European Parliament. Van Zon outlined that these direct elections represented an impetus for Parliament to become a stronger, cohesive, efficient and legitimate body.

Van Zon underlined that his analysis dispels the myth of a powerless and fragile institution, preparing itself for an incumbent electoral disaster. Van Zon noted that, in his opinion, if Parliament’s powers may have seemed rather opaque to the public in the past, the Spitzenkandidaten procedure is one way in which the lines of Parliament’s accountability are becoming more evident. Indeed, Van Zon indicated the extent to which the lead candidate procedure demonstrates the last example of Parliament’s ‘DNA’ behavioural attitudes at work:

  1. ‘Claim to speak on behalf of the people’ – ‘respect the outcome of the election’;
  2. ‘Call yourself a parliament and act like one’ – ‘Parliaments are involved in the formation of governments’;
  3. ‘Don’t try to change the rules, change the costumes instead’ – ‘interpret the Lisbon Treaty instead of changing it’.

Professor Westlake and Koen Van Zon’s lecture made a strong case for the existence of a Parliamentary ‘DNA’ that, since its very inception and well before direct elections, has provided proof of unprecedented resilience. If today radical or eurosceptic parties are no longer excluded from Parliament (as was the case in the past), their presence will not ‘bring the house down’. On the contrary, Van Zon argued that the Parliament is and always has been strong enough to uphold the democratic promise to welcome dissent at the very heart of democracy. This will strengthen, rather than damage, such a ‘genetically resilient’ institution.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/21/understanding-the-european-parliaments-history-how-the-parliament-of-the-1950s-and-1960s-shaped-our-institution-today/

Artificial intelligence, data protection and elections

Written by Shara Monteleone,

Tastatur Europa

© SimpLine / Fotolia

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica case in 2018, revealing alleged misuse of personal data for political advertising, demonstrated how the underlying values of the European data protection rules are essential for democracy. The EU has recently adopted a series of additional initiatives to support free and fair elections, reflected not least in European Parliament (EP) debates and resolutions.

Personal data and data analytics

Every day, most of us use digital devices, searching or posting online, and produce considerable amounts of data, capable of revealing, with the help of algorithms and data analytics, information about how we think and feel. It is said that ‘we are data‘, as the digital profiles so created can be used to predict our behaviour and personalise the services accessed. Data protection rules are in place to reduce the risks of improper use, of which the user is often unaware. When the purpose of the personal and behavioural data collected is to filter the content users can see, to influence their opinions or even to target them as voters, the issue at stake is nothing less than the democratic system itself.

The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica case

In 2018, newspapers reported that a UK-based political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), had improperly obtained data on 87 million Facebook (FB) users (including 2.7 million Europeans), without their consent. Data collection was initially made via a third-party application that 270 000 FB users were invited to install (voluntarily) for research purposes. Data of friends of friends, collected exponentially, were passed to CA, which used that data to target online voters/users with personalised political ads, allegedly seeking to manipulate their behaviour in the 2016 UK and US polls. Afterwards, FB announced it had made changes to restrict app developers’ access to data, and CA shut down in 2018. However, the connections between unlawful data processing and disinformation/manipulation of data revealed have raised criticism in Europe.

The European Parliament: A long tradition of supporting data protection

As part of its varied powers, also widely exercised in the data protection field, the EP has been active in investigating the scandal of Facebook/CA – which are companies certified under the EU-US data transfer deal, the Privacy Shield. The EP adopted a resolution in July 2018 on the (in)adequate protection afforded by the Shield to guarantee European users’ rights, and called on the European Commission to suspend the agreement. Moreover, a series of hearings were organised to assess the impact of the Facebook/CA case, and FB CEO Mark Zuckerberg was invited to meet EP Members, although the answers provided were unsatisfactory.

An EP resolution, adopted in October 2018 on the use of FB users’ data by CA, urges Member States to engage with online platforms to increase awareness and transparency regarding elections.

Micro-targeting, disinformation campaigns and data surveillance

While micro-targeting for political campaigns may simply be seen as commercial advertising, it may threaten democracy, public debate and voters’ choices substantially when the related practices rely on the collection and manipulation of users’ data (big data analytics) to anticipate and influence their political opinions and election results (computational propaganda). While GDPR is considered a strong instrument to ensure digital technologies are consistent with democratic values, it may not be sufficient alone.

A social media post says a lot about us. As we live in what has been defined as a black box society, our behaviours, preferences and the related data become (through clicks) (freely) available to large, commercial technology companies (also defined as ‘surveillance capitalists‘ due to the market concentration created), creating a vulnerability in both our digital and real lives. Such companies could develop methods capable not only of automating and translating every activity into data, but also capturing the surplus of personal data, to make users uncover data that they would otherwise not provide, and to transfer this knowledge into power. For these reasons, privacy and competition laws must be considered as intertwined. A behaviour, or a decision, can be manipulated in a certain way for commercial aims, but also for political outcomes, often without the users’ awareness or choice. Such concerns may rise, given the increased availability to some of these companies of surveillance tolls (traditionally used by intelligence services).

EU Voice

The European Parliament has consistently investigated such disinformation and unlawful data processing and urged a strong and coordinated European response. The measures adopted at the EU level in 2018 include: the Commission’s communication on ‘Tackling online disinformation‘, supporting a European approach; the creation of an independent European network of fact-checkers; the Code of Practice on Disinformation, signed by several online platforms: a self-regulatory tool, which should improve transparency on the origin of the news, on how it is sponsored and targeted, and should also help with concrete actions in view of the elections. As a result, Facebook recently launched transparency rules.

While elections remain primarily a Member State responsibility, a package on free and fair European elections was adopted to protect the electoral process from disinformation campaigns based on the misuse of voters’ data, including: financial sanctions (signed in March 2019) for European political parties in case of deliberate infringement of data protection rules to influence EU elections (i.e. taking advantage of unlawful data processing); a recommendation for Member States to cooperate in securing the European elections; and guidance on the application of data protection law in the electoral context.

Artificial intelligence, data protection and elections

Given their popularity, all European political parties currently use online social media for electoral campaigning. However, the lawfulness of some parties’ data collection and use remains questionable.

Technological possibilities may enhance or undermine political decision-making. As there is a strong relationship between digital technology, democracy and polarisation of public discourse (a user is exposed to a one-sided set of information), its design impacts participation, debate and democracy.

It is clearer than ever that, while privacy and data protection are essential for other rights and freedoms (of thought, of choice, of movement), the use of new, often-opaque, automated decision-making practices, relying on algorithms, requires higher transparency, as well as joint accountability on the part of different actors, and ethical considerations. The European Data Protection Supervisor (working with other EU bodies to ensure that data are used responsibly and that voter rights are respected), stressed that data protection is a prerequisite for fair and democratic elections, and called for regulators (electoral, media, data protection authorities) to make a joint effort to protect election integrity.

Read this ‘At a glance’ on ‘Artificial intelligence, data protection and elections‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/21/artificial-intelligence-data-protection-and-elections/