Calling all Europe geeks! Hold on to your hats
- 24 May 2014
Intrigued by Simon Wilson's blog about UK election law I dug out the EU Act from 1976 that concerns European parliamentary elections.
The only thing it has to say on what can and can't be reported during the actual vote comes in Article 10, point 2:
"Member States may not officially make public the results of their count until after the close of polling in the Member State whose electors are the last to vote."
That word "results" is crucial. Exit polls are not mentioned.
Now, a source at the European Parliament says that if you get a group of EU legal experts together, they'll argue over whether this means you can or can't report exit polls.
However the fact that Article 10 doesn't refer to such polling explains how my colleagues in the Dutch media can spend the last 24 hours mulling over their national exit polls, what they mean for Geert Wilder's anti-EU movement, and what they might mean for the rest of Europe - all that well before the majority of people in this election have even voted.
The 1976 act lays out the broad rules for European elections, but each EU country carries out the election within its own legal framework.
So far, so good. However, consider this - and to do so please let me stretch a point way, way too far.
For the first time the European elections have a real transnational element to them.
The main groups within parliament have put forward lead candidates ("Spitzenkandidaten", they're called) who in theory are running across the whole EU.
For instance, for the Socialists' group Martin Schulz is the main candidate. As such, he wants people to vote for Socialist group members across the EU. In the UK, that means the Labour Party.
And while people were voting on Thursday in the UK, Martin Schulz and other lead candidates were still campaigning - in theory against UK election law.
Andrew Duff put me in my place on that one. A British Lib Dem MEP and candidate this year, he's an EU constitutional expert: "Nerdy people like us are clearly influenced by all this," but not the average voter, he maintains.
Nevertheless, he does think EU election law might have to change before the next election.
"The Spitzenkandidaten experiment is a first stab at the transnational election we need," he says.
"In 2019 (at the next EP election) if all goes well a person will have two votes. One for a European seat at the national level (as now) and the second for a transnational list."
At that point the act of 1976 would have to be amended, he adds, since the election would be truly pan-European.
What would amending the act require? Two words that will bring joy to many a Eurosceptic heart: Treaty Change.
If they get to this stage, Andrew Duff says, "we're going to do that in a convention, which will also sort out - if we can sort it out - the British problem".
Irony of ironies, then. Many MEPs want a wider European element to their election which requires treaty change. Many Eurosceptics want to claw back power from Brussels which also requires treaty change. Could they really work together on this one?