Institutional Affairs

Sarkozy keen on radical shake up of EU institutions

08.09.06 @ 18:09

  1. By Mark Beunderman

BRUSSELS - French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed radical EU reforms such as getting the European Commission president to pick his own commissioners and cross-border European Parliament elections - but first he wants a new EU "mini treaty."

Mr Sarkozy, currrently the French interior minister, on Friday (8 September) delivered a high-profile speech at the Friends of Europe think-tank during a visit to Brussels, which seemed designed to boost his campaign for the 2007 presidential elections in France.

The energetic politician said the bloc should act "urgently" to overcome its institutional stalemate by reiterating earlier calls for a "mini treaty" containing important elements of the EU constitution - rejected by French and Dutch voters in referendums last year.

But Mr Sarkozy also injected fresh elements in the longer-term debate on the EU's institutional architecture, notably by proposing a radical reform of the European Commission.

In the EU's current Nice treaty, each member state has the right to appoint one commissioner, while the shelved constitution sought to limit the number of commissioners on the basis of equal rotation between member states.

Mr Sarkozy stated however that the principle of national capitals appointing commissioners "does not guarantee neither the efficiency nor the legitimacy" of the EU executive.

"Why aren't we bold...and leave the composition of the commission to its president?...after all, it's on the basis of this logic that national governments are formed."

In Mr Sarkozy's vision, the commission president would himself be elected by the European Parliament - which would provide him with a democratic mandate.

Once elected, the commission chief could then pick his or her own commissioners, which would enable the body to "function like a real team around its president."

Cross-border MEPs lists

The proposals are however likely to raise eyebrows particularly from smaller member states, who would be deprived of any guarantee that they have representation in the commission - while any new commission chief would probably not dare to offend France, Germany or the UK by not picking one of their nationals.

Mr Sarkozy already caused some alarm in small and mid-size member states last year by proposing that the EU's "big six" should together take up a leading role in the union -an idea which he repeated on Friday.

Meanwhile, the French politician, who is the leader of France's centre-right UMP party, also proposed to set up transnational candidate lists for European Parliament elections, based on common political programs.

"In every member state, the questions debated remain essentially national. There is no European campaign," he said, hoping that EU-wide lists would create genuine European debate.

France and Germany should pioneer the scheme with cross-border political platforms in the 2009 elections, according to Mr Sarkozy.

Turkey and the constitution

But the most "urgent" matter for the union to solve at the moment is the deadlock on the EU constitution, he said, repeating proposals made in January for a slimmed-down version of the charter to be ratified by the French parliament.

The "mini treaty" would include key parts of the constitution such as its voting rights provisions and plans to create an EU foreign minister, on which there is a "large consensus."

"It would provide a way out for those countries that voted 'no' without humilitating those who voted 'yes'," he said, adding that the French EU presidency in 2009 should finalise the text.

On enlargement, he stressed that the EU should fix its borders, telling Western Balkan countries that they can join once the EU has sorted out its institutional problems - but he said that Turkey should stay out.

"We should now say who is European and who isn't," he said.

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