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Friday, December 8, 2023

(EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024) Lessons from 2019: What should we pay attention to next year?

By: Gašper Blažič

We have reported that SKS presented the lead candidate for the European Parliament elections next year. The lead candidate is Peter Gregorčič for SLS (Slovenian People’s Party), a university professor, publicist, civil society activist, and former president of the Programming Council of RTV Slovenia. This is the first concrete announcement of a candidacy for the European elections, and the other candidates on the SLS list have not been publicly disclosed yet.

The initial reactions following the announcement were generally positive, with prevailing assessments that SLS, led by the younger generation member Marko Balažic, made a significant move with media coverage for the first time since falling out of the parliament. If Peter Gregorčič were elected to the European Parliament, it could boost his “political stock”, providing a platform for political engagement at home. Gregorčič and SLS advocate the idea that a strong EU is genuinely strong only to the extent that the weakest link is strong, emphasising the importance of not strengthening the EU at the expense of its member states.

NSi has problems

However, as mentioned earlier, the candidacy of Peter Gregorčič poses a significant challenge for NSi, which has not yet fully decided how to respond. Unofficially, there seem to be considerable disagreements within the party. Some members want Ljudmila Novak to remain the lead candidate, and she reportedly even set a condition to the party leadership that she would run only as the lead candidate. Another faction within the party, based on public opinion polls, prefers one of the current NSi MPs, including party president Matej Tonin, to be the lead candidate on the list.

The candidacy of Peter Gregorčič poses a significant challenge for NSi, and there are reportedly internal disagreements within the party. Unofficially, there seems to be considerable discord. Some within the party prefer Ljudmila Novak to continue as the lead candidate, with Novak reportedly setting a condition for the party leadership that she would only run as the lead candidate. Another faction within the party, based on public opinion polls, would like to see one of the current NSi MPs, including party president Matej Tonin, at the top of the list.

This situation could present a significant problem. In the competition between ideologically similar lists, there is a risk of dividing votes. This is particularly risky due to the relatively high threshold for entry into the parliament (ten percent). If, for example, the NSi and SLS lists received around 9.5 percent of the votes each, neither of these parties would secure a seat in the European Parliament, and nearly twenty percent of the votes would essentially be wasted. For Slovenia and the European Union in the future, it is crucial to have suitable representatives. Next year, Slovenia will have nine parliamentary seats instead of the current eight, and the European People’s Party aims to have at least five MEPs from its member parties in the parliament. These member parties include SDS, NSi, and SLS.

In 2014, almost half of the votes were “wasted”

Let’s take a closer look at the experiences from the European elections in 2019. In those elections, 14 lists competed, but only four of them crossed the threshold to elect their candidates. SLS formed a joint list with SDS, and from this list (25.26%), three candidates were elected: Milan Zver, Romana Tomc, and Franc Bogovič. SD won two seats (18.66%), but Tanja Fajon prematurely ended her term as a Member of the European Parliament due to her appointment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so Matjaž Nemec joined Milan Brglez. The LMŠ list, which no longer exists as a party since last year and is now part of the Gibanje Svoboda, also has two MEPs (Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj), and the list won 15.44%. Meanwhile, NSi barely reached the threshold with Ljudmila Novak (11.12%).

If we add up the percentages of all four lists that had their MEPs in Brussels or Strasbourg, we find that these four lists together garnered 70.5% of all valid votes. This means that almost a third of the votes ended up in the “trash”. This percentage of lost votes could be even higher, considering that, in the 2014 elections, it was almost half of all votes! At that time, only three lists won seats: SDS, SLS+NSi, and Verjamem (Igor Šoltes). It is worth noting that in 2019, several other lists (unsuccessfully) competed, including SMC, now-defunct LMŠ, SNS, the self-dissolved Homeland League, DeSUS, and Levica.

The electoral system is highly risky

Based on current predictions, SDS is likely to again secure at least three out of the nine seats, and SD two. It is probable that the Gibanje Svoboda will also secure two seats. The remaining three seats will be contested by Levica, NSi, SLS, and possibly new parties, and it is not excluded that the pro-Russian-oriented Resni.ca might enter the race. The outcome will also depend on the lead candidates. Due to the high threshold and the “equalization” effect, the ratios between the share of votes and the actual seats won can be problematic. The mandates are distributed proportionally using the d’Hondt system. First, the absolute number of votes that a list received is calculated (for European elections on the national level, which is one electoral unit). The lists of candidates are then lined up in columns, and their votes are divided by one, two, three, four, up to nine – the highest number of MEPs Slovenia will have next year (in the last elections, it was eight). This is stipulated by the Law on the Election of Representatives of the Republic of Slovenia to the European Parliament in its 13th article.

Additionally, voters can cast preferential votes to indicate their preferred candidate on the list. The law stipulates that elected candidates are those who receive the highest number of preferential votes: “Preferential votes for individual candidates are taken into account if the number of preferential votes for an individual candidate exceeds the quotient, calculated by dividing the total number of votes cast for the list by twice the number of candidates on the list. If, according to this rule, there are not enough candidates elected to cover the number of parliamentary mandates belonging to an individual list, the remaining parliamentary seats on that list are filled by candidates in the order of the list of candidates.” Of course, preferential votes can only be given to the list that was originally marked. The more votes a list receives, the greater the actual influence of preferential votes on who from the list will enter parliament. In practice, this could even be someone who is last on the list – as happened in the first elections in 2004 with Borut Pahor, who was the leader of the (ZL)SD list, and Aurelio Juri.

Given that the election system for the European Parliament allows for the possibility that your vote may be lost among those who end up on the margin, it is worth considering whom you will vote for next year. If both NSi and SLS were to drop out, and SDS did not significantly increase its share, this could result in a ratio of 6:3 in favour of the transitional left. Do you really want such a future for Europe?


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