Monday

16th Jul 2018

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.

... our 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 the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

The suggestion that Russians themselves play a role in the condition of their state today is often dismissed as "xenophobic" or "Russophobic". But if not addressed, the evils of nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialism will continue even after Putin is gone.

Will EU suspend trade deal with Cambodia?

The EU has been slow to react to the collapse of Cambodian democracy - but if it ever chooses to use it, Brussels has substantial influence and leverage over Cambodia.

EU climate diplomacy can make the difference

At this critical time, with climate change increasingly urgent and with reactionary, anti-science forces threatening processes of cooperation, the EU climate mission can reassert the common values and aspirations which Europeans share.

News in Brief

  1. VW owners to get diesel software update free until 2020
  2. Airbnb breaches EU consumer rules, Commission says
  3. EU sees no China free-trade talks
  4. Italy accepts migrant boat after help promises
  5. EU opens case on Siemens' Alstom buyout
  6. Trump: May found my Brexit advice 'too brutal'
  7. Italy will reject EU-Canada trade deal, says deputy PM
  8. Commission: Juncker suffered from sciatica attack at Nato

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  2. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  3. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  4. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  5. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism
  6. Stage set for Trump-Putin finale
  7. Trump scuppers trade deal with UK under May's Brexit
  8. Trump wades into Brexit after Nato fiasco

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us