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Democracy for the sake of it? Conclusion

Subjects:

The European Parliament

As we continue to ponder the issue of representativeness, Paul Davies - formerly of the Electoral Reform Society - continues his series looking at the EU's only democratic institution (Part 1, 2, 3, 4):

Last time out we had a quick think about what it is that the European Parliament is, or rather should be, actually there for. In this, the final instalment of this particular group of posts, we look at how this purpose can possibly be achieved, or even brought within range of a very powerful purpose-spotting telescope.

That every member nation should be properly represented within the Parliament is without question. However, what the word 'properly' means in such a context is a mammothly moot point.

Were MEPs to be distributed in exact proportion to the relative populations of the countries they represent, Malta may as well not bother, for their share of the European Union's population wouldn't even be enough to claim a spot crammed in by the toilets behind the cheap seats.

As it is, seats in the European Parliament aren't organised like this.

Currently, each Maltese MEP represents approximately 80,000 Maltese people, just a few thousand more than each Member of Parliament represents here in the UK. However, each German MEP represents ten times that number - some 800,000 people.

Both of these situations can sound grossly unfair, depending on what one cares to stress, thus finding a happy medium where everyone gets a say but where no country is a little bit too much more equal than some other countries is almost impossible.

System-wise, there is no answer. However the MEPs are elected, (and for what it's worth, nationally tailored variations on STV would seem to be the most sensible set-up, as the evidence suggests this would do as much as possible to engage the populace with the policies), the Union will still face a similar problem to the American Senate, where all 50 states have two senators despite the ratio of the largest state to the smallest state in terms of population being a whopping 70:1.

For now, adopting the American way seems like the most likely, and perhaps the most sensible, course of action. The American way, of course, is to forget about it and hope the problem goes away, safe in the knowledge that any attempts to change things will take up so much time and unearth so many more problems that any victories achieved along the way will most probably be wholly Pyrrhic in nature, and if the costs of the experiment were ever disclosed to the public, it would be wholly counterproductive as well.

It may seem like a cop-out, but with a democracy of almost 500-million people, it's hard to see an alternative. As Clive has pointed out in the last few days, despite the inevitable bombast from the tabloids, people simply aren't too interested in the EU, save as something to complain about over a distracting pint.

The European Parliament, like the European Union, should play to its strengths. The very idea of a Union of the size and scope of the one currently in front of us is frankly nuts. The problems so far encountered and the ones yet to come are seemingly insurmountable. And yet somehow the Union has always managed to muddle through, in its trademark tremendously tedious and sensationally soporific way.


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