Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Focus

Spitzenkandidaten risk politicising EU commission, advisers warn

  • Barroso's in-house thinktank warns against locking the European Commission into party politics via the 'Spitzenkandidaten' process (Photo: TP)

The EU commission has officially endorsed the top candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) process for finding President Jose Manuel Barroso's successor, but two commission advisers say it could undermine the institution's independence.

Back in March 2013, the EU commission published a non-binding recommendation arguing in favour of political parties putting forward top candidates in order to boost turnout and encourage a pan-European debate.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Now that the Spitzenkandidaten process has led to a rift between Britain and a few allies on one hand and the European Parliament on the other, the commission's in-house think tank, the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (Bepa) has put out a monthly brief looking at the pros and cons of the experiment.

In one article, signed by Edward Best and Sabina Lange from the Netherlands-based European Institute of Public Administration, the Spitzenkandidaten process is scrutinised for how it may damage the independence of the EU commission.

"This process could even be counter-productive. With the aim of highlighting the virtues of the new approach, the impression is being given that all EU institutions except the European Parliament are illegitimate, and will remain so unless and until they too are elected in EU elections," the two authors write.

They also criticise the top candidates for over-promising things they will never be able to deliver as commission president.

"The commission president is not comparable to a chief executive in a presidential political system at national level, far less a Prime Minister," they write, adding that there will be 27 other commissioners appointed irrespective of the EU elections results.

In addition, a complex EU policy-making where member states, EU parliament and commission are involved at all times "already constitute powerful limits to policy options".

"Personalising EU politics may engage more citizens in thinking about Europe. However, this public competition between individuals may not only be deceptive in the light of institutional reality. It could also distract attention from, and distort, debate as to the institutional nature and raison d’etre of the European Commission."

The authors argue that the EU commission's role, as enshrined in the EU treaties, is to be "completely independent" and focus on the implementation of EU law, "without being caught up in the short-term interests of national – or indeed European – electoral politics".

"However, the linkages between the Commission and the European Parliament as promoted in the campaign cut deeply into the roles of the Commission, starting with that of promoting the general interest of the Union," they write.

With an increase of supervision powers on the economic front, "the usefulness of the Commission role as an independent and objective referee may actually become greater".

"Criticism over the commission's preference for certain political options, closer to some member states' governments than to others, has confirmed that in such highly sensitive areas as those covered by the European semester, increasing the commission's independence will do more for its legitimacy than locking it into political party politics," the authors write.

A spokeswoman for the EU commission said that the views expressed in the Bepa review are not an official position of the EU commission.

EP leaders tell Van Rompuy to nominate Juncker

Leaders of the main political groups have told EU council chief Herman Van Rompuy to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker as the next EU commission president or face an "institutional crisis".

Juncker opponents: Focus on reforms, not names

Failing to agree on Jean-Claude Juncker as next EU commission president, the leaders of Germany, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands said it was important to focus on EU reforms rather than names.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us