Friday

6th Dec 2019

Opinion

Weber: Six proposals in wake of Spitzenkandidat process

  • 'Should it be possible for the EU to take this step towards more democracy and transparency, then the sobering developments of the past weeks can also produce something good.' (Photo: European Parliament)

Since the European elections there has been much discussion about European democracy.

I will not lament - as a person directly concerned - the decision-making process that resulted in a package deal on the new leadership in Europe. I respect this result, which was in accordance with the Treaties and therefore not undemocratic, albeit unsatisfactory.

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  • German MEP Manfred Weber was the official Spitzenkandidat of the EPP - the largest party in the European Parliament - before this month's summit of EU leaders saw him passed him over in favour of first Frans Timmermans and finally Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Many voters and a large number of MEPs expected the democratisation of the EU to have made another clear leap forward, which would have been possible with the election of a lead candidate. To our regret this did not happen.

The fact that the European Council decided to block the lead candidates cannot mean the end of the further democratisation of the European Union.

Despite these setbacks, we must continue towards our goal. If people do not see a clear link between their vote and the political action after the elections, then at some point they will no longer accept that the EU decides about essential questions for peoples' daily lives. The EU would be fundamentally challenged.

That is why we should continue to fight to build bridges between "Brussels" and citizens in Europe.

The current situation motivates me to stand up even more resolutely for a better Europe, that stand closer to its citizens.

That is why this parliamentary term should be the term of further democratisation and European parliamentary democracy. This must become the common leitmotif of the European Parliament and the new European Commission. In order to put this into concrete action I propose the following:

Six proposals

First, the principle of the lead candidates must be enshrined in a legal act that is recognised by all and binding. In its current form the principle is certainly not perfect, but it is a major step towards greater democracy and transparency.

Future European commissions will have to shed the stigma of having been selected in backrooms, even if that is in accordance with the rules in force. The decision on who will lead the commission in future should be taken at the ballot box and in the European parliament. This simple principle should be accepted by everyone, including the European Council.

Second, the European parliament, as a sovereign institution, must finally be given the right of legislative initiative. This does not require any amendment to the treaty in the short term.

The commission simply has to commit to taking on board the legislative initiatives adopted by a majority of the European Parliament. In the longer term, it is necessary to supplement the treaties with this specific right of parliamentary initiative.

Third, the EU's accountability to citizens must be strengthened. We do not need new advertising brochures showing how well Europe is doing. What we need are significantly enhanced control powers for the European parliament.

Like all national parliaments, the European parliament must have powerful investigative rights so that its committees of inquiry are not toothless tigers any longer.

Fourth, the European parliament must play a key role in shaping the EU's work programme. 200 million voters did not send their MEPs to Strasbourg and Brussels at random, but in order to bring their interests to bear.

This must be reflected in the commission's work programme on the basis of a political agreement between the pro-European groups supporting parliament and the commission. What initiatives the commission launches? How should it react to political developments? These must be part of a collegiate work programme, with the plenary of the European Parliament as the place where Europe's central political debates take place.

Fifth, the European parliament must pay much more attention than before to the implementation the laws. Today, the parliamentary process for MEPs usually ends with the adoption of laws. However, the national implementation of these laws has repeatedly led to interpretations that do not correspond to the aim of the initial legislation.

This requires a new instrument, like a new unit as is the case in the US Congress, through which the European parliament can monitor, analyse and, if necessary, correct implementation. The executive needs to be better controlled at all levels.

Sixth and final point, a system check in the EU is needed.

The EU and its institutions are important, but of course not the solution to all problems. You need to focus on what is really necessary and must be decided at EU level.

The next commission, together with the national parliaments and the European parliament, should clarify which tasks are better dealt with in Europe, and which are better off at national or regional level. In addition, the determined fight against bureaucracy must be continued. This remains a central concern of citizens.

Regrettably, some political groups in the European parliament have failed to act in the spirit of further democratisation in recent weeks. But one chance still remains.

The election of the Commission president this week is a decisive one.

Only if people recognise themselves in the actions of the EU, can the EU regain their trust.

Only when the voice of the citizens is really heard, will they feel part of something bigger and become stakeholders of this Union.

Should it be possible for the EU to take this step towards more democracy and transparency, then the sobering developments of the past weeks can also produce something good.

Author bio

Manfred Weber is the leader of the European People's Party in the European parliament and was their official 'Spitzenkandidat' for the European Commission presidency. A German-language version of this op-ed appeared first in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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