Learning from other countries

Learning from other countries

Voting

Most European countries adopted proportional representation electoral systems in the early 20th century. For example, Norway’s parliament has 169 MPs, with 19 constituencies each electing between four and 20 MPs based on a formula that accounts for both population and area. All but one seat in each constituency is allocated on the vote in that constituency, with the final seat allocated at the national level to guard against small parties losing out in smaller constituencies. The Norwegian electoral system leads to frequent but often stable minority governments and a clear two-bloc party system, avoiding the months of coalition negotiations between smaller parties that blight proportional representation systems in other countries, such as the Netherlands.

Party funding

Norway is also an interesting case study of how the funding of political parties can be reformed to curb the influence of interest groups. All political parties in Norway receive the majority of their income from government subsidies, allocated on the basis of the share of votes in the previous election and the representation in the elected body. There are bans on donations from foreign interests and anonymous donors. However, there are only bans on corporations that are partly owned by the government, no bans on donations from trade unions, and no limits on the amount that can be donated to parties. Parties are required to disclose the amounts and sources of all donations.

Lobbying

The vast majority of European countries reviewed have no comprehensive regulation of lobbying and no system in place to systematically record contacts between lobbyists and policy-makers. Europe lags behind Canada and the United States in this regard. Only seven out of 19 European countries have laws or regulations specifically regulating lobbying activities, of which the UK is one (the others are Austria, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia), according to a 2019 EU analysis and a 2015 report by Transparency International. The latter report found that only one country (Slovenia) scored more than 50 per cent on their quality assessment, while only Austria has a mandatory code of conduct for lobbyists in place. It also found that “many of the lobbying related laws and regulations that exist in Europe are, to varying degrees, flawed or unfit for purpose”, and that there are “problems with weak implementation and lack of enforcement of existing rules”. However, it has also been argued that stricter lobbying laws (as in the US) can hurt transparency, if not improved.

MPs’ pay

The salaries of parliamentarians vary widely between countries, from £13,000 per year in India to £670,000 per year in Singapore. In 2016, the salary of British MPs was above the European average but well below that of several European countries, most notably Italy, Germany and Austria.