Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Opinion

EU must overhaul process for choosing commission chief

  • Juncker (r) and Schulz (l) are too often allied against member states. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Parliament will not be legitimate “for 100 years”.

Who made such a statement? Some advocate of Brexit speaking on the campaign trail? Or someone from a growing bunch of nationalistic far-right parties?

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

No. It was Francois Mitterrand in 1991, a good European, no doubt.

One is not necessarily an enemy of European integration when one criticises the European Parliament or other institutions, although the MEPs or members of the European Commission often try to suggest otherwise.

Both the European Parliament and the European Commission deserve much criticism these days.

It is now two years since the last European elections and it is high time to say it clearly: the so-called Spitzenkandidaten (top candidate) process, the main innovation of those elections, has failed and needs to be abandoned.

Under Spitzenkandidaten, the top parties name their candidates for commission chief before European Parliament elections. The candidate from the winning party then takes up the EU's most powerful post.

First of all, the selection of the commission’s president through the Spitzenkandidaten process has created nothing more than an illusion of democracy.

In the European Union there is no single public space that could serve as an arena for the competition of political parties. Elections are national.

Can someone in his or her right mind really think that people in Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy or Estonia were passionately arguing whether to vote for Juncker or Schulz?

The Spitzenkandidaten process is political theatre for the Brussels bubble.

No wonder that, according to media reports, even senior German politicians including Angela Merkel want the Spitzenkandidaten process abolished.

Ignoring member states

It is equally unsurprising that the commission and the parliament will fight tooth and nail to keep it. It gives considerable power to a small number of leaders of both institutions.

Since the last elections we can observe a very pronounced trend of mutual cooperation between the commission and the parliament. They act in tandem (one is almost tempted to use the word “cartel” instead). Their leaders are sometimes not even trying to hide their contempt for the member states. This is dangerous.

Juncker, Schulz and their aides are thus transforming the so-called community method, where the commission proposes legislation that, in order to come into force, has to be adopted by both the parliament and the member states (the Council of the EU), into a clash where the commission and the parliament are too often allied against member states.

Deals are prepared in advance and then both institutions pressure the member states to agree. We have seen it in the course of the current refugee crisis where the commission has repeatedly ignored the will of the member states.

This leads to serious irritation among those member states that do not share the view that the notion of an ever closer union is gospel that the EU needs to follow on every possible occasion.

A counterproductive move

“The commission and the parliament are deliberately setting the countries against one another,” complains a senior official from a Central European country.

Thus, the member states – and not just those from Central and Eastern Europe, far from it – are losing faith in the impartiality of the commission and they suspect that the whole Spitzenkandidaten process serves as a vehicle for the commission and the parliament to enhance their own powers.

The idea of selecting a very powerful commission president in a democratic-in-name-only process no matter what the European Council might be thinking, who allies himself closely with MEPs who are unknown to most people in Europe, and who pushes for far-reaching measures towards further integration, is counterproductive for the European ideal.

Rightly or wrongly, people around Europe are more and more distrustful of the EU and of “Brussels”.

The Spitzenkandidaten process, by decreasing powers of national politicians who hold a truly democratic mandate, risks inflaming this distrust even more.

Ondrej Houska (@OndrejHouska on Twitter) is Brussels correspondent for the Czech public radio.

Magazine

The spitzenkandidaten coup

The year 2014 shall go down as the date the European Parliament snatched away the right to nominate a European Commission president from national governments.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us