No Parliament should vote in secret

European Parliament
Wall of silence (Photo credit: jocelyn.aubert)

Did you know that MEPs can vote in secret, so you never find out who voted which way? Neither did I. But they can. Now MEPs are talking about voting in secret on the EU Budget, which they have to approve now the member states have signed it off.

I’ve always been a supporter of the European Parliament as a step towards the more democratic EU we need – but our elected MEPs voting in secret on something as important as the budget is a huge step backwards, and a massive mistake. What’s more, it makes the case for democratic reform more difficult, not less, and so will end up weakening the influence of the Parliament with member states and with the public.

Why do MPs want to vote in secret? Because they are worried that the political parties or governments in the countries they come from will put pressure on them to vote the way they want. Well, apologies for the gendered phrase, but man up. If MEPs are not big and strong enough to put up with pressure, perhaps politics isn’t the career for them.

I’d encourage people to write to their MEPs, as I have, to protest and to ask them either to block the secret vote or tell us, their constituents, how they voted. A reminder that you intend to vote in the European Parliament elections next year would not go amiss. If you live in the UK, this handy tool from MySociety will help the job along.

Democracy isn’t just about proper process, it’s about carrying out that proper process accountably, where citizens can see it. When it holds its votes in private, a Parliament is not behaving like a Parliament, it’s just another interest group.


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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

3 replies on “No Parliament should vote in secret”

  1. The article ignores that the rules of procedures of the MEP specifically MANDATE secret ballot votes for appointments – much like the constitutions of other nations. This is to make sure that the appointee truly has the confidence of parliament and not just of party whips.

    The parliamentary rules of procedures furthermore specifically allow a secret ballot when demanded by one-fifth of the MEP.

    The parliamentary rules of procedures state that the MEP is not bound by instructions. Holding a secret ballot on cases where people would love to give such instructions is a good way to ensure independence of the MEP. Whether he or she laters tells their constituents how they voted is not touched by that. In doing so, they can elaborate as to the why of the decision.

    Grandstanding about democracy while single-handedly declaring the standing procedures invalid is, unfortunately, not very credible. Democracy definitely does not get better by watering down the separation of powers and opening members of parliament to blackmail by national governments.

    1. Thanks for your comment Oliver. I don’t agree.

      1. I think you’d agree that appointments are rather different from budgets in terms of scale, consequence and importance to the general public. In any case, I don’t support mandatory secret voting for Parliamentarians on any issue.

      2. The Parliamentary rules of procedure are not democratic merely because they are the Parliamentary rules. In fact, it’s my point that they need to be changed, or at least that the secrecy provisions should not be used in this case. From my perspective, as someone who is both a supporter of Europe and democracy (and both together) – the procedure rules don’t measure up to what I believe are appropriate standards for open and democratic legislatures.

      3. I understand that the secret vote is meant to prevent MEPs bending to instructions from their party or government or whatever. I just don’t think that’s a good enough reason to break the fundamental element of Parliamentary democracy, which is that business is transacted in a transparent and accountable manner.

      4. “Grandstanding about democracy” and “single-handedly declaring the standing procedures invalid”. The first is my job (in a manner of speaking), and the second I have no legal capacity to do. But I can state my opinion.

  2. I voted for a representative that will represent MY interests, not those of the party leader or indeed the interests of well-funded lobbyists. I am prepared to accept that his own conscience may play a part in the way he votes and sometimes I might not agree with him, but the reason we plebs have a secret ballot is prevent bribery and intimidation. I want my representatives to be free of this too.

    Moreover I disagree that MP’s are keen on a secret ballot. I suspect the present system suits them very well. There have been numerous rumours and ‘votes for cash’ scandals and the secret ballot ballot would eliminate this. I feel this precaution is far more valuable than my knowing exactly how my representative has voted on every issue.

    I want to trust him or her. And I feel with the present system I cannot do that.

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