European Commission - faces blurred

So the ‘debate’ about the future President of the European Union advances apace. According to EUObserver today some sort of behind-the-scenes deal has been struck between France, Germany and the UK meaning that no country will pursue a nomination opposed by one of the other two. So curtains for Blair the article speculates.

But just stop. Stop. Get a grip people. I don’t actually give a damn whether some sort of deal prevents the nomination of Blair, or – frankly – the nomination of Juncker, Rasmussen or Dr Spock. What I object to is that this debate about the future direction of the EU for 2009 is going so completely and utterly in the wrong direction. How does EUObserver, run by eurosceptic Jens Peter Bonde’s wife, give the impression that all of this is just business as usual? There’s no mention whatsoever of the terribly glaring lack of democratic legitimacy of the European Council position.

How the hell has everyone been banging on about the EU’s democratic deficit for more than a decade, and now is so willing to talk up a position that has no democratic legitimacy?

There’s even this terrible line in the EUObserver article: “The position of the EU’s president is contained in the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty under the official heading of President of the European Council.” No. There is no damned position of EU President in the Treaty of Lisbon – and if any job is to have this mantra it should be the President of the European Commission.

And so to them, those 27 Commissioners in the picture above. How does each and every one of them react when they read all over the place that the EU is going to get its first President – in the European Council and not the Commission? Without so much even as a whimper. Margot Wallström is the only one to have vaguely put her head above the parapet and called for women candidates for the top positions, but what Commissioner has dared put the case for the Commission? We’re approved by the European Parliament they should be saying. We have 24000 civil servants working for us. The head of our institution – the President of the European Commission – should be the President of the EU.

Ask yourself this: would Jacques Delors, or even Romano Prodi, have allowed all of this to be happening without some very robust public statements defending the predominant role of the European Commission? Delors must be tearing out his remaining greying hairs as his beloved institution is increasingly eclipsed.

[UPDATE – 22.04.08]
This is a bit more like it – chair of the EP’s Budgets Committee, Reimer Böge, has stated that the EP might be willing to use the time-honoured tradition of leveraging the EP’s budgetary powers to deliver a political outcome – in this case restricting the staff and perks available to the President of the European Council. Elmar Brok has even advocated ending the gentleman’s agreement between EP and Council on staffing budgets with regard to this issue. Maybe just bluster, but I’m relieved someone is saying these things.


  1. Martin Keegan

    There’s no such thing as the “Community interest as something that’s more than the sum of the Member State parts”, just as there’s no such thing as the national or European interest that’s more than the sum of the interests of the individual citizens.

    Countries and the EU do not somehow become detached from concrete physical reality and slip off onto some metaphysical plane acquiring interests of their own distinct from their constituents, however fervently this may be desired by some.

  2. sebastian

    It is simply not true that the EU is becoming more intergovernmental. If you have a closer look at the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (the reformed TEC), you will see that the role of the EP has been strengthened by making the ordinary legislative procedure the rule and by extending qualified majority voting in the Council, the intention is clearly to move away from intergovernmentalism.

    And one more thing where I disagree with you:
    if you do not base your decision in a national election on the position of the party and the candidate you choose to vote for concerning their European programme, then you might want to reconsider your understanding of the EU. The EP is never going to be a “real” parliament and the Commission is never going to be the government per se. The Member States will always retain the decisive power through the function and role of the Council.

    And for the lack of accountability you allege:
    The ECJ can strike down legal acts and the Member States always have the option of the Maastricht-jurisprudence put forward by the German Constitutional Court where a legal act of the EU not covered by a specific legal competence of the EU is inapplicable in a Member State.

    Anyways, I guess we just have a different approach to it and will probably never agree on these issues, but both the “Who do I call” and the “Who is your candidate” seem a bit too simplistic to me.

  3. sebastian

    For the time being, the EU is not a State. It is still very much intergovernmental. And it will stay like that. If you are a federalist as you say, the German system should appeal to you. But what you seem to advocate is for the EU to become more of a State, which is not a realistic ambition.
    And in my view EP elections are usually more on Member States’ issues than EU matters, but again that’s just my observation.
    Why does the Council in your view has not sufficient democratic legitimacy? And what would be the alternative to the current institutional system?

  4. I’m quite happy for the EU to become more of a state, but we have a strange situation developing where the EU is ever more potent in legislative terms, but is lacking the systems of accountability a state would require. That’s not right… The EU is never going to run education or healthcare systems, or have a budget comparable to a state, but it should have democratic institutions comparable to a state.

    The strange thing with what’s happening presently, as I see it, is that the way the debate is developing about 2009 post ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon is that the EU will be more intergovernmental and less communitaire than before – i.e. it’s going the wrong way.

    As for the solutions… 2 you could do – both legal in the Treaty of Lisbon – are to merge the positions of President of the European Council and President of the Commission, creating a proper President of the EU that has some legitimacy – that’s what we advocate with Who Do I Call.

    Secondly, all European political parties should openly put forward candidates for the Commission President – give a figurehead to the EP election campaigns. There’s a campaign for that – Who Is Your Candidate.

    As for the Council currently: they wield a hell of a lot of power and strike deals in secret behind closed doors. Plus, as I said, no-one elects their national parliamentarians (or indeed should) according to what they are going to do at EU level.

  5. sebastian

    How many of the “some voters”? Have you ever had a look at the average turnout for EP elections? And how do you explain the different level of Member States’ representation in the EP (e.g. Germany v. Luxembourg)? Compared with the Council and for the sake of it the so-called EP, the Commission is the institution with the least democratic legitimacy from a constitutional point of view

  6. Some people voting on EU questions, and an election that is supposed to be about EU politics, is a hell of a lot better than national elections about national matters, and EU decisions stemming from that.

    What you’re advocating is the equivalent of voting in German Länder elections on the basis of what the future Ministerpräsident will push in the Bundesrat.

    The reason I’m a federalist is that I want democracy and accountability at each level. Yes, the levels have to interact, but the main democratic legitimacy must be at that level, not from the level below.

  7. sebastian

    The Council has more democratic legitimacy than the Commission as the Council is made up of representatives of the Member States’ governments which are elected, whereas the Commission is an appointed executive. If you do not like how your government handles European issues, just vote for someone else in the next national elections.

  8. Rubbish.

    Who votes for their local Parliamentarian, who then makes up a majority to appoint a Government, who are then sent off to the Council to represent the country, on the basis of what they think about the EU? No one.

    Council work inevitably amounts to unaccountable horse trading behind closed doors.

    The Commission, on the other hand, has to be approved by the European Parliament, and at least some voters vote in EP elections on the basis of EU political questions.

  9. Any politician institution normally wants to protect and enhance its power. Delors was the master of that while he was Commission President. Sod legitimacy – he was determined to make the Commission important and managed to do so. Like him or loathe him but you have to admire his political guile.

    Today in the Commission there is no-one that comes close, no-one that is willing to stand up for the institution, no-one willing to stop power seeping away to the European Council (and indeed the Council of the EU, COREPER etc.), no-one willing to stand up for the community interest as something that’s more than the sum of the Member State parts.

    While the Commission is far from perfect, it’s a lot better than striking all the deals behind closed doors in COREPER, and because the Commission President has to be approved by the EP the Commission is at least a bit more legitimate than the new European Council President.

    But no-one – in the Commission or elsewhere – is making that sort of case.

    Lastly, why do I state I’m an ‘anti-monarchist’ rather than a ‘republican’? It’s actually for no reason other than Google – I don’t want people coming across my blog thinking I’m somehow supportive of the Republicans in the USA. So I am a republican with a small r.

  10. This is far too late at night/early in the small hours to post but I have that devil-may-care-stuck-in-a-shite-hotel-room feeling, so sod it.

    The Commission has been kicking off, Barroso summoned Coreper (that is, as you know Jon, the EU executive body comprised of unelected and mostly unknown national bureaucrats, permanent representatives, as they are known, for God’s sake) for a pre-emptive strike at a dinner on April 8.

    I am not sure why you seem to imply the Commission, whether run by that God bothering, elitist bore Delors, or a.n. other/s, is more legitimate? Anyway you are being faux naïve indeed to pretend any substantial democratic difference between Commission and Coreper/Council.

    One question we should be asking is why the office of EU president, president of council or whatever, being constituted without any public debate? The terms and conditions are so far reasonably well advanced without anyone breaking cover, not least the ghastly Commission hypocrites, who concerned only with turf, not accountability.

    We could go on to ask why it is that none of the executive bodies of the EU, European Council, Councils of ministers, Coreper, the Commission, all of them public authorities, keep a public record of their debates or decisions.

    If an authority is public surely the creation of an office, such as the Council President, or any other decision should be a matter of record? Not here in Brussels. None of the institutions above keep minutes – let alone a public record.

    When was the last time you read minutes of Coreper (it does most legislation) or any Council of Ministers? Nobody takes any official record of the EU’s highest plenary, the European Council (except for each county’s private or secret Antici notes).

    Authority as exercised by the EU is not res publica. It should be. If you think authority can be exercised another way you are no democrat (social or otherwise, Jon) or European in the great enlightenment tradition. Perhaps that is why you are an “anti-monarchist” rather than a republican?

  11. Giacomo

    Sorry Jon but I am unable to find that post in which you talked about mapping euro-blogs and leaving there this comment…

    I have just found this:

    being able to do something similar for euro-blogs would be marvellous

  12. Giacomo

    You are right Jon, and let’s add that this so called first EU President will be not only weakly legitimate but also legitimately weak!
    The once-were-called foreign minister will have, despite the masking new name, much more power then him (or her)… and the competition between the President of the Commission and the no-more-rotating President of the Council will weak the position of both the offices since the very beginning…

    what a mess…

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