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Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Commissioner for Justice
Duff report: improving the organisation of the elections to the European Parliament in 2014
Plenary Session of the European Parliament/Strasbourg
3 July 2013
Next year, the European Parliament will go for the eighth time seeking the votes of our citizens.
Since 1979, voters' participation in the European elections has steadily decreased: from almost 62 % in 1979, when the first direct elections were held, to 43 % in 2009. In some Member States, the turnout literally plummets. This trend of decreasing electoral participation can also be seen at all levels, in national and regional polls.
The Commission is making significant efforts to encourage political participation and to improve citizens' awareness of their EU rights. I would like to mention the first EU Citizenship Report in 2010, which contained a plan of action with 25 concrete and workable measures to make citizens’ lives easier in the EU (these actions have now been implemented).
On 8 May 2013, the Commission adopted its second Citizenship Report after wide-ranging consultations. This Report suggests avenues to promote Union citizens’ participation in the democratic life of the EU and puts forward 12 new actions in 6 key areas, to make sure that all Union citizens can make full use of their rights.
The Commission announced that it will further promote EU citizens’ awareness of their EU citizenship rights, with a particular focus on the electoral rights of first time voters. The Commission will produce through the 2013 European Year of Citizens and ahead of the next 2014 EP elections, a handbook presenting those EU rights in clear and simple language.
Furthermore, we will seek to strengthen and develop the European public space by exploring ways to provide citizens with information about European issues from a European point of view, but also from a range of national perspectives from other member States.
In the case of European elections, a recent Eurobarometer showed that 8 out of 10 citizens would be motivated to vote if they had more information on programmes and objectives of candidates and parties, of the EU impact on daily lives and on the elections themselves.
According to the same Eurobarometer, 7 out of 10 EU citizens believe that if political parties displayed in all campaign material to which European political party they are affiliated, voter turnout would be higher and 6 out of 10 think having party candidates for the Commission President and a single voting day would help turnout.
In this context, on 12 March 2013, the Commission issued its Recommendation to national and European political parties and to the Member States to further enhance the democratic, transparent and efficient conduct of the European elections.
I believe that making the link between national and European parties visible and indicating the candidate for the Commission President before elections will contribute to more transparency and bring the EU institutions closer to Union citizens.
If national parties ensured that their political broadcasts are also used to inform citizens about the candidate President and this candidate's programme, it would encourage a genuine pan-European debate and thus stimulate voters' interest.
In its Recommendation, the Commission recommended to Member States to agree on a common voting day for the European elections. This would better reflect the common participation of citizens across the Union and make the European nature and the choice offered by these elections even clearer to citizens.
In addition, the Commission recommends to Member States a series of practical measures to simplify the exchange of information in view of avoiding multiple voting in different Member States, in case of Union citizens who moved to reside in a Member State of which they are not the nationals.
I would therefore like to thank the Parliament and its rapporteur Andrew Duff for presenting a report on improving the organisation of the elections to the European Parliament in 2014, which addresses most of these issues.
The objectives of the European Parliament Resolution and of the Commission Recommendation coincide in that both of them aim at reinforcing legitimacy of the EU decision-making process and bringing the system closer to Union citizens.
Your report points to the need of an electoral campaign based on European party platforms and programmes. These recommendations, together with those related to the "democratic and transparent procedures" to be adopted for selecting the candidates for the Commission presidency, will certainly send a positive signal to citizens across the EU.
This is also the sense of the Commission's proposal to strengthen the effectiveness of European political parties. This proposal would give European political parties greater visibility and enable them to operate across the EU by giving them a genuine European legal status. This is crucial to help them stimulate voter interest in the European elections and to encourage real pan-European debates. I therefore hope that the European Parliament and the Council will be able to reach agreement on this important proposal soon.