24th Mar 2018


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?

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.


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.

'Denial' - is meat the new climate change?

The European Parliament's agriculture committee meets on Tuesday, with speculation that the EPP will vote against a report on the EU plant protein plan if it mentions switching away from animals to plant-based diets.

Moria refugee camp is no place for people

Two years on from the highly-controversial EU-Turkey deal, many thousands of refugees are still trapped on Greek islands. One of them offers an open invitation to EU leaders to see their inhospitable conditions at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos.

'Denial' - is meat the new climate change?

The European Parliament's agriculture committee meets on Tuesday, with speculation that the EPP will vote against a report on the EU plant protein plan if it mentions switching away from animals to plant-based diets.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections