As quoted in this piece at EUObserver:
A former British EU ambassador, Stephen Wall, also poured cold water on the scheme, saying that the appointment is about balancing national and political interests in Europe, rather than individual merit.
“Given that they have to placate the right, the left, the north, the south, the large and small nations, you could have a brilliant presentation but, if the politics didn’t fit, what would be the point?” he said in an article in the New York Times on Tuesday.
This is in response to a Polish proposal that candidates for EU top jobs should make presentations to EU leaders.
Let me reply to Stephen’s point. The President of the European Council has no democratic legitimacy at all (appointment is by heads of state and government, no role for the European Parliament), and the High Representative for Foreign Policy is not much better (s/he is part of the Commission team, so needs EP approval at least). But where else, in whatever appointment for a top position does merit not even come into it?
If Wall were still the UK’s permanent representative it might have been right to defend his position behind closed doors. Now, as Vice Chair of Business for New Europe, he has a public relations role and he’s just essentially saying we shouldn’t actually give a shit about whether the person is any good, let’s stick with a diplomats’ stitch up – that’s not acceptable from him. If you’re an advocate for a positive role for the UK in the EU, and for an EU that delivers good policy, you should want a good President of the European Council or High Rep, however unlikely in reality we all know that is going to be.
In short Wall is no person to make any sort of case to citizens about the EU.
“But you know that if you vote Labour, your local Labour candidate wins, you’re going to get Gordon Brown.”
Which is hardly any real choice. Supposing you like your candidate (i.e. as someone who will properly represent your interests in Parliament and do good for the constituency) but don’t like Brown. What do you do? Supposing it’s the other way around?
It then comes down to the more brutally honest question of whether you’re actually voting for a Parliamentary representative or just an agent of the party. To whom does that person’s loyalties lie? Supposing there was an issue where the constituents wanted the MP to vote one way and the party wanted them to vote the other? Supposing the party then imposed a three line whip? We would then see how much in deficit British democracy really is.
The intention of this post had not been to start a detailed discussion about the relative democratic merits of the different appointments, but so be it! 🙂
Rather than replying to the specifics I think I ought to state my general case.
As Jack rightly points out, no-one elected Gordon Brown directly. But you know that if you vote Labour, your local Labour candidate wins, you’re going to get Gordon Brown. There’s no equivalent at EU level, but there could be.
I accept there are many failings of the European Parliament, but still 40% of Europe’s population vote for it. Somewhere between 60 and 70% of populations vote for national parliaments, although EU matters are only of very minor importance in those elections.
The problem with the EP is that its power is not measurable, i.e. it’s very hard to say what changed one way or another depending on how the EP is composed. If the EP got its act together and used all its powers carefully it could really shape the direction taken by the European Commission, but for whatever reasons it has been ineffective at doing that…
In summary, now as before, I am in favour of a federal EU based on the principles of Parliamentary, representative democracy. That’s the best way to ensure democracy and accountability.
“I don’t believe in indirect democratic legitimacy”
So presumably you don’t think Gordon Brown is a legimate Prime Minister of the UK? He wasn’t elected into that role.
I think a lot more democratic legitimacy flows through national governments and into the Council than exists in the European Parliament, where people are elected on pathetically low turnout and nobody has any idea what they’re voting for or what the EP does. I admit that there is chicken and egg here, but the EP needs to do a LOT of growing up before it has earned the right to have any real say on the big issues facing Europe.
The question of democratic legitimacy is a tricky one. How democratic is a Parliament composed of people who were selected by a politburo in a political party and then, vote in by the electorate? Power is in selecting, not in electing. Therefore the so-called “democracy” is in fact a “partitocracy”.
@Jon: you say “any top EU position either needs to be as a result of a parliamentary system (i.e. EP elections) or a direct vote.”, in my view the first is not much more democratic than the nomination by the heads of state and governement, and the second would be as democratic as the selection of the candidates would be.
@robert: the same applies. Yes, an MP is elected by the electorate, but it has been previously selected by the party appareil. No much democracy there. I would even say that there is sometimes much more democratic scrutiny on the ministers than on the MPs, especially if the latter are backbenchers!
@Alejandro – a related question is the degree to which a UK Prime Minister has democratic legitimacy, given that they aren’t directly elected. By extension, what about departmental ministers who are elected as MPs but not to the ministerial positions they get appointed to. At least Commissioners have to be approved by the EP!
@Alejandro – I don’t believe in indirect democratic legitimacy. No-one elected the heads of state and government on the basis of their stances in the European Council. Any top EU position either needs to be as a result of a parliamentary system (i.e. EP elections) or a direct vote.
I would say that the Lisbon Treaty gives the European Council enough legitimacy to (s)elect its chairman-president, but nothing like the “President of Europe”.
The procedures have been intergovernmental enough, which should cause joy among all who want nothing more than “freely cooperating, sovereign nation states”.
This process illustrates why we need EU level parliamentary democracy, with politically responsible government.
Jon, though I agree with the content of your post, there is something is not entirely right. You say:
“The President of the European Council has no democratic legitimacy at all (appointment is by heads of state and government”
This is not exact, for the heads of state and government present in the European Council, that is, those that will appoint the President, have been elected democratically, therefore, there is an indirect democratic legitimacy. But is such legitimacy satisfactory? Surely not, at least not in my eyes.