Dialogue Programme European Integration: Dieter Nohlen in Barcelona

The world of academia can be subdivided into at least two groups: There are experts, and there are authorities. Dieter Nohlen, Professor emeritus of the University of Heidelberg, clearly belongs to the latter. With five honorary doctorates from Latin American Universities alone and his flattering nickname “The Michelangelo of Electoral Law,” the German scholar distinguishes himself as probably the most prominent and influential professor on electoral law worldwide.

Upon invitation of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Catalan NGO “Acció per la democràcia”, Dieter Nohlen spent a day in Barcelona to talk about a possible reform of the Catalan electoral law, which dates back to the Franco regime and still makes use of the outdated concept of so called “closed lists”. For the last several months, the Catalan Parliament has been discussing a change of the current situation. Most parties, among them the ALDE Party member Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), are in favour of establishing a system similar to the German one of “personalized proportional representation”, where every voter has two votes – one for the representative of his constituency, and a second one for the party he or she prefers.

At the renowned “Circulo Ecuestre” in Barcelona, Prof. Nohlen pointed out the advantages of this system to journalists and members of the Catalan civil society. Later that day, several Members of Parliament as well as high-ranking representatives of the Catalan administration followed the invitation of “Acció per la democràcia” and the Naumann Foundation to the “Institut d’Estudis Catalans”, where the Professor openly discussed the pros and cons of “personalized proportional representation”. “It is a system that works almost perfectly in Germany, but that does not automatically mean it is easily transferable to other countries”, he argued. “A certain culture of party democracy is essential to this system.” Being a scholar, and not a politician, Nohlen concluded: “Even a professor can only present his ideas to the audience. In the end, it is up to the Catalan people to choose which electoral law suits them best.”

To Guillem and Octavi Grau, two driving forces behind “Acció per la democràcia”, the day with Dieter Nohlen boosted their hopes of finally giving Catalunya an up-to-date electoral law. “We think that Professor Nohlen, who sat a lot of Latin American countries on the right track, was an inspiration to a lot of influential people in the audience. The reform will probably come next year. Together with the FNF, we will continue to make sure the parliamentarians are well educated on a topic of such a magnitude for democracy itself.”

Markus Kaiser