Prophetic warning about MEPs comes to pass
A prophetic warning by Bishops and other church leaders about the dangers of introducing a closed list system for elections to the European Parliament, appears to have been substantiated.
A study by researchers at Manchester and Aberystwyth universities has concluded that MEPs are becoming increasingly focused on representing their party and are less inclined towards making individual contact with their constituents.
In 1998, Anglican and Catholic Bishops, the director of the Evangelical Alliance and representatives from the Baptist and Methodist churches all signed an open letter to The Prime Minister warning of the centralisation of power that would occur under a closed-list system.
In particular they pointed out how voters would be unable to hold candidates to account for their position on specific ethical issues.
Elections to the European parliament are now fought under a party list system where each party presents the voters with a ranked list of candidates for each constituency.
While the new electoral system has improved the balance of party representation in Brussels, almost half of the MEPs interviewed regarded constituency representation as a fairly minor part of their job.
"The introduction of proportional representation had substantial and immediate effects on who was elected," said the report's co-author, Professor David Farrell.
"The British contingent became more proportional in party terms and the number of parties represented rose from four to seven.
"However, there are also indications that with substantially larger Euro-constituencies, MEPs now place less importance on representing individual voters and more importance on representing their party."
Nearly three fifths of the MEPs questioned said that they saw themselves as being in parliament to represent their political party.
"MEPs increasingly see themselves as representatives of their party and their party's supporters within the region, rather than representing the whole regional electorate," said report co-author Dr Roger Scully.
"Given that a typical region will now have MEPs from several parties, this is perhaps not surprising. But it means that they spend a lot of their time communicating within their party rather than to the voters."
The existing difficulties of keeping in contact with constituents could be exacerbated next may when the European Union takes in 10 new member states.