The European Union is closer to taking a decisive step which will affect the European Parliament. It's preparing an electoral law reform which, as well as redistributing the United Kingdom's seats among the remaining members, will establish a minimum vote requirement to win representation.
The reform still has to be passed by the Parliament itself, which requires an absolute majority. If accepted, however, it could seriously disadvantage ERC and PDeCAT, the Catalan parties with seats in the chamber, who could even end up out of the Parliament. The vote is to be held in the plenary session in the first week of July; it's still unclear whether it will find the votes necessary to go ahead.
The reform will, for the first time, introduce a minimum vote threshold, to be between 2% and 5% depending on the decision of each member state. This minimum will only apply in the larger countries, with the largest populations and most seats, like France, Italy, Germany and Spain. The latter two countries have seen special alarm, where there are very small parties which still win seats.
If the highest barrier possible, 5%, is applied, the results of European elections could end up substantially altered. In the last election, in 2014, Coalición por Europa (Coalition for Europe) —which included the former CiU alongside EAJ and CC— got 5.42% of the vote in Spain; ERC got 4%, Ciudadanos, 3.16% and for their part, EH Bildu's candidacy, Els Pobles Decideixen (The Peoples Decide), got 2.1%, similar to the result for Primavera Europea (1,9%).
As such, the smaller or pro-independence Spanish parties would have to stand in coalitions if they don't want to end up out of the Parliament.
Why the change?
Currently, member states have the right to decide whether or not to impose a minimum vote threshold. Spain, like Germany, hadn't done so. If the reform is passed, large member states would have to impose thresholds between 2 and 5%. The change was proposed by Germany, which wants to prevent its far-right from obtaining representation in the chamber. After trying to bring in such a threshold through German electoral law, coming up against opposition from the Constitutional Court, they have decided to push for the reform at a European level.
In Germany, should the law pass, chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU party, like SPD, would reap the benefits, because it would prevent their country's anti-system and extremist parties from earning seats. Smaller parties tend to be helped by low turnout in European elections.
In Spain, however, the situation is different: whilst far-right party Vox would likely suffer the effects, the great complications would be for parties like Catalonia's ERC or the Basque region's EH Bildu, which could be left out of the Parliament. They would have to consider standing in coalition with other, similarly-minded parties.
Even if the reform does end up going ahead, it's not clear if it will apply to the next European election, expected in May 2019. The Venice Commission recommends that electoral reforms are made no less than one year before an election, which would not be the case here if the proposal is passed in July. As such, it could come into effect for the following election, in 2024.