This morning European Parliament approves Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission: “Junker” has been elected, as President of the European Commission, by a strong majority of 422 votes for, 250 against, 47 abstained, 10 invalid.
Speaking ahead of the vote, he presented his political guidelines for the next European Commission as set out in a document entitled “A new start for Europe”: on ten policy areas. Jean-Claude Juncker’s Political Guidelines is to restore European citizens’ confidence.
Two weeks ago EU agreed on this political agenda, which sets out five overarching priorities and will guide the work of the European Union over the next five years. Tomorrow will be a good moment to discuss the follow-up of these priorities with Jean-Claude Juncker.
For the first time, a direct link has thereby been established between the outcome of the European Parliament elections and the proposal of the President of the European Commission.
This follows long-standing calls from the European Parliament echoed and repeated over several decades. It has the potential to insert a very necessary additional dose of democratic legitimacy into the European decision-making process,including a general ‘tidying-up’ exercise by providing for clearer legal bases where the Union already acts with the Member States. It also is a unique opportunity for a fresh start.
During the course of 2014 there will not only be anew College of Commissioners, but also a new President of the European Council, and new High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Following the electoral campaign for the European Parliament, the European Council’s proposition needs a very careful analysis of each solution’s strengths and weaknesses –
The recent European Parliamentary election has been followed by much uproar concerning the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ or ‘leading candidate system’ chosen for the Commission presidency. This is understandable, considering both the position’s importance, and that this is the first time the Lisbon Treaty has been applied in this matter.
The European Parliament is the only directly elected body in the EU Ït is doubtful, that European Constitution project would gain more support within the European population if it does not strengthen the democratic accountability of European Parliament.
The report on the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon with respect to the European Parliament is intended to strengthen the Commission’s democratic legitimacy,and the way in which decisions are taken.
However, we should not increase the present confusion among the public. For example, on one side, the candidates, headed by Mr Juncker, explain that the party with the highest votes must get the job. On the other side, some national leaders, led by Mr Cameron, affirm that the European Council can do whatever it wants. Paradoxically, both sides are wrong.
First, the Treaty. According to Article 17(7) of the EU Treaty introduced at Lisbon, ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission.’
This implies consequences.
- The Council proposes, the Parliament disposes. So those who speak about an ‘appointment’ by the Council are wrong.
- The Council must take into consideration the results of the election, but it has a margin of appreciation, otherwise the text has no meaning.
So those who speak about a ‘right’ to be chosen are also wrong. There is no obligation to nominate anybody precisely. Nonetheless, the need to ultimately obtain a majority in the Parliament is quite relevant.
Secondly, the electoral promises. All the main political parties have chosen a spitzenkandidat for the European Commission’s presidency. They have made these declarations loudly in most (not all) Member States. The heads of government know that very well. They are strongly connected to the political parties, since they meet quite regularly and publicly in this context.
From the point of view of European Member States MEPs, which voluntarily choose to promote their own policy goals, and then act collectively to secure these goals, it is impossible to escape European Councils control over the agenda. Nevertheless, cohesion is relatively strong.
Thirdly, the context must be seen. Many people in many circles deplore the lack of connection between the actions of the EU and its citizens. With the directly elected at the European levels, to operate as the voice of the people in the EU governance system. The actions of EU citizens and election’s results were a strong sign for the heads of government of member states and the trust of European Commission and the Council.
The Treaty text did not make this mandatory, but it was decided nonetheless – and rightly. An election must matter, and the stakes were much clearer for the voters this way. Given this background, those who say the Council has no constraints acting on it are especially wrong.
This constraint remains far from absolute, however. For example, if the entire Parliamentary election had produced the same result as in France, there would not be many people pleading today for the nomination of Mme Le Pen to the presidency. If the centre left had the majority in the European Council (quod non), the heads of government could be tempted to nominate a centre-left candidate to be considered by a centre-right Parliament. They should resist such a temptation.
Additionally, the weight of the euro is underestimated in this debate. The next five years will be crucial for the euro’s future, which remains rocky. Will the (euro) majority of the Member States entrust this delicate situation to a president from a non-eurozone state? It is unclear. With the eurozone candidates, the problem changes. We must thus weigh the consequences of the various options against them.
It shows also a second dimension, which relates to the speed and nature of European integration and battles between the European Parliament and the Council and Commission. There lies another Juncker advantage. He has pleaded both for serious restructuring programmes in the peripheral States, and for solidarity in the core States.
At the end of the day, the decision belongs to the Parliament, not the Council. The system’s new logic is parliamentary, not diplomatic and Council can´t do whatever it wants under the consultation procedure..
The European Parliament is the only directly elected body in the EU. While being often criticised or vilified by some national politicians and national media, one should not forget that it is also the European institution that is most trusted by European citizens.
This is the keystone, and it must be taken into consideration. This change is not accepted by those who want the system used in 1995, 1999 or 2004 to be rolled out again. Considering these promises, the European Council’s margin of appreciation must be used extremely carefully.