EU threat to traditional Thursday voting: what next?

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Anyone who is harbouring concerns that the EU is hell-bent on political union should look away now, because noises coming out of the EU at the moment could be interpreted that way. The European elections in 2014 are supposed to give us a taster of what the EU has in store, and as part of the preparations Europe would like us all to vote on the same day.

It means the UK giving up our tradition of voting on Thursdays in favour of a Sunday vote. But is this the only change, or is it the thin end of the wedge?

Why change?

You could argue that it's an anomaly to have voting for the same elections held on a number of different days. At the moment Britain and Holland vote on a Thursday; Ireland and the Czech Republic on Friday; Cyprus, Italy, Latvia, Malta, and Slovakia on Saturday; and everyone else on Sunday.

You could also argue that it may not be a major transformation of the British way of life - and could even prove an advantage to parents whose children are traditionally off school on Thursday while their school is used as a polling station.

The problems

Those who argue against the move have a very practical objection: Thursday has been picked as statistically people are most likely to vote on a Thursday. The turn-out for the European elections is already low enough: if we change the date then the MEP's could arguably come to power with the support of a laughably small proportion of the electorate.

However, a poll by the Guardian reveals that things may not be so clear-cut. At the time of writing, 64% of people said they would be more likely to vote on a Sunday than a Thursday.

The Conservatives have been quick to condemn the proposal. David Lidington, the Europe minister, drew the line at changing the voting day. He said: "There is a rich electoral history across Europe, and we don't want to see this diversity undermined by mandating a one-size-fits-all approach to elections day. The UK holds elections on Thursdays and we will carry on holding elections on Thursday."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage agreed, saying: "We are completely opposed to having a voting system or fixed date imposed by diktat from Brussels. We would be appalled if local elections were to take place on a different day from the European elections in 2014. It really would be ridiculous of local and euro elections were just two weeks apart in May next year."

Presidential vote?

They are also concerned that this is just the thin end of the wedge. The change is just one of a set of proposals put forward in a discussion paper by Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission, who said: "We are at a key moment of European integration with treaty changes coming up soon and a European federation at our political horizon. It is important to give citizens and companies a perspective on what Europe will look like in 2020. The 2014 European Parliament elections will prepare the ground."

Among the new proposals, there are a couple which seem to be positive steps to bring more clarity to the process. The first is that national parties ought to make it clear to voters which European political party they are affiliated to - and their policies.

This is not widely understood. A good chunk of people think they just carry forward the British political parties and continue to represent the same views. In reality they are aligned to the EU party they feel most closely represents their views - which requires a fair few compromises.

The second proposal designed to bring clarity is that Europeans ought to vote for the next President of the European Commission. Arguably this is an individual with a fair amount of power, and we have a vested interest in who holds the position. The proposal states: "It would increase the legitimacy of the president of the commission and more generally, the democratic legitimacy of the whole EU decision-making process."

Reding added that it would help increase turnout, pointing out that: "In 2009, only 43% of Europeans voted. Europe cannot be built without the participation of Europeans. It is essential that citizens have their say."

One MEP, Andrew Duff, told the Wall Street Journal: "Turnout will have to improve this time, or we're doomed. That requires controversy, a choice. The fact that we'll have four or five people in TV studios and on platforms competing with each other will dramatise the competition."

However, some pundits are concerned that this would in effect give the President a mandate to wield more power. Ashley Fox MEP, Conservative spokesman on EU constitutional Affairs, told the Telegraph: "There is no need for an elected President of Europe because there is no country called Europe."

Farage added: "We shall not be instructed to advocate the choice of a Commission President. We don't want one, we don't need one and it is quite likely there would be no suitable candidate anyway. Because of this state of affairs we may well advocate a spoiled paper for the Commission President vote."

Those who are fundamentally opposed to a closer relationship with Europe see the proposals as a worrying development. Farage added: "Luckily for us, I am sure this Commission proposal will backfire and the Eurocrats will get peoples' backs up, making them come out in even greater numbers to vote against anything the ghastly European Commission would care to demand."

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