Monday 20 April 2009

European Union: One citizen, one vote

The democratic ideal is equal representation: One citizen, one vote.

The European Union is based more on its member states than on its citizens. Voting weight (when any votes can be taken) in the Council and representation in the European Parliament have been fixed through political negotiations by treaty level provisions, far from giving each EU citizen equal weight.

Julien Frisch’s blog post European Parliament elections 2009 (86): Are the Scottish underrepresented? (20 April 2009) illustrated the problem in the context of a potentially independent Scotland and its number of MEPs.

My own comment to that was:

The principle of degressive proportionality has been put into practice in a way which favours the smallest member states too much.

It is not based on popular representation, but on representation for member states.

This structural flaw becomes an argument for secession of regions within member states.

The 'first chamber' of the European Parliament should give each citizen's vote more or less the same weight.

Then it would be neutral with regard to independence movements within member states.

But the current arrangments form a package with Council voting rights.

Structural flaws like these are often hard to correct later. The Lisbon Treaty makes matters even worse by awarding a minimum of six MEPs to each member state.

Just as an illustration: Under Lisbon, if 83 million Germans were rearranged into 166 mini-states of half a million inhabitants each, they would be entitled to 996 MEP seats, way beyond the total number of seats in the European Parliament.


The Lisbon Treaty, Article 14(2) of the amended Treaty on European Union, offers the wrong incentives. As we saw, the end results could be absurd in extreme cases:

Article 14(2) TEU

2. The European Parliament shall be composed of representatives of the Union's citizens. They shall not exceed seven hundred and fifty in number, plus the President. Representation of citizens shall be degressively proportional, with a minimum threshold of six members per Member State. No Member State shall be allocated more than ninety-six seats.

The European Council shall adopt by unanimity, on the initiative of the European Parliament and with its consent, a decision establishing the composition of the European Parliament, respecting the principles referred to in the first subparagraph.


Liberal democracy is based on the individual. The vote of each citizen should have the same weight.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Julien Frisch has started a new mirror blog in German: Julien Frisch (Deutsch). Take a look.


  1. I agree that citizens should be more equally represented in the EP, but I think that some level of minimum representation for each state is needed in the EP.

    I've just blogged a reply here:

  2. I'll take a look.

    There is a huge difference between some minimum representation and six MEPs for states with less than a million inhabitants.

  3. Readers,

    I think that you should read Eurocentrc's blog post.

    But I post my comments on his blog here too, as two separate comments. Here is the first one:

    I think that my example of a dissembled Germany on pre-unification lines (the one during Bismarck's time) was grotesque enough to show that this is a detail where the Lisbon Treaty goes completely wrong.

    Six MEPs for 0.4 million people is not built on sound principles.

    But I agree that each member state should have some minimum representation in the European Parliament (first chamber).

    A pragmatic solution might be two, with a voting system conducive to one 'government' and one 'opposition' candidate being elected, i.e. one electoral district, which should not be a problem in the mini-states.

    In a federal EU the states would most probably be represented in a second chamber, on fairly equal terms. (My personal suggestion would be three groups equally large groups with factors of 1, 2 and 3 times the basic representation, maybe more, because the differences in size are truly huge.)

  4. Here is my second comment, on the treaty numbers of MEPs:

    I forgot to mention that the original post on Scotland used old MEP numbers. The Treaty of Nice was modified when Bulgaria and Romania joined, and the numbers from 2009 are annexed to the treaties (the consolidated version from 2006).

    These should be the numbers we elect in June 2009:

    Belgium 22
    Bulgaria 17
    Czech Republic 22
    Denmark 13
    Germany 99
    Estonia 6
    Greece 22
    Spain 50
    France 72
    Ireland 12
    Italy 72
    Cyprus 6
    Latvia 8
    Lithuania 12
    Luxembourg 6
    Hungary 22
    Malta 5
    Netherlands 25
    Austria 17
    Poland 50
    Portugal 22
    Romania 33
    Slovenia 7
    Slovakia 13
    Finland 13
    Sweden 18
    United Kingdom 72.’

    By the way, all the mini-states except Malta already elect six representatives, before the Lisbon Treaty has entered into force.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Grahnlaw.

    I've just had a few follow up thoughts on this, and I think that we should probably consider a few other options on seat allocation, such as having constitutencies set at a European level, having transnational lists or having some cross-border constituencies. I've posted in a bit more detail in another blog post (sorry to divide it up like this, but I thought it would be too long for a comment).

  6. Eurocentric,

    I already saw and commented. I hope that others read your posts and share their thoughts.


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