Thursday

20th Jul 2017

Opinion

EU elections 2014: Toward a democratic revolution?

  • EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Who's next? For the first time, EU voters are to have their say (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The elections in May could have, for the first time ever, a decisive impact on the choice of the future President of the European executive.

The Lisbon Treaty allows the European Parliament to ‘elect’ the President of the European Commission. We must seize the opportunity to turn the forthcoming elections into genuine European elections.

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One of the innovations introduced by the Treaty is that, when nominating the next President of the European Commission, member states have to "take into account the elections to the European Parliament", a rule that did not exist previously.

The choice of the candidate must be approved by the new Parliament: the President of the Commission is, under the terms of the Treaty, ‘elected’ by Parliament. This means that voters will in effect have their say regarding the choice of the future head of the European Commission.

Symbolically speaking, this is a significant change, as it creates the idea that the European elections are intended to influence choice of the President of the Commission. The underlying logic is similar to that of parliamentary systems found in the majority of the European Union.

This development will contribute to a greater politicisation of the European Union in the noblest sense, in particular through a personification of European politics. Indeed, while the European Parliament has been elected by universal suffrage since 1979, Europe has only ever played a minor role in those elections.

We must seize the opportunity to politicise these elections, which up till now have all too often been seen as secondary elections, resulting in striking absenteeism and protest votes against local governments.

At a time when the European Commission has gained a certain degree of control over national budgets, its democratic legitimacy will be strengthened, as will that of the whole European decision-making process.

Europeans must be able to take a clear stand on the future of Europe, and this must inevitably go through an impact on the composition of the European executive. And now, for the first time through the European elections, citizens will be able to directly influence the direction of the EU.

The European elections will no longer be just a debate between pro- and anti-EU sides.

Europeans must be able to put a face both to the main paths available to Europe, and to the cleavages of European politics. This requires a clear confrontation between parties regarding different views on the functioning, policies and future of the EU, such that citizens can fully take advantage of the great democratic event of this spring.

A personification of the function will help raise citizen awareness of European issues and promote a true discussion at European level, and should ultimately renew interest among voters. Indeed, while there can be no policy without ideas, ideas cannot be properly expressed without men and women capable of personifying them.

Although some may see the politicisation of the commission as a risk of loss of its independence, it bears reminding that many of its tasks essentially involve political choices.

The act of politicising the appointment of the future President of the European executive will obviously not bring into question the institution’s obligation of compliance with the treaties, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is the same for each national government that is bound by its constitution.

One can therefore only applaud the fact that this initiative is being actively promoted by the main European political parties as a core element of their respective campaigns throughout Europe.

We have the opportunity to make 2014 a turning point in European integration history. This is our chance to promote European integration on the basis of clear policy alternatives.

I am convinced that Europe cannot be built without the participation of its citizens. Along the same lines, one must allow European citizens to be heard within the European democracy and thereby transform the European elections in a genuine debate on the future of our continent.

To ensure the future of the European project, it is necessary for us to make the various cleavages of European politics more transparent and more exciting.

The question asked to voters will therefore no longer be "Are you for or against Europe?", but "What kind of Europe do you want?".

The writer is the foreign minister of Belgium

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