Tuesday 11. August 2020
#171 - May 2014


Post to be filled: President of the European Commission


The term of the President of the European Commission is coming to an end. On 1 November next a new President will take office and lead the European executive for the next 5 years. Who will make the appointment and what are the criteria?

The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in 2009, introduced a number of clarifications concerning the European institutions. It still remains to implement the designation of the President of the European Commission as provided by Article 17 of the EU Treaty.


A democratic designation?

The President of the European Commission occupies a central post. He is a kind of head of a government made up of 28 European Commissioners. The European Commission thus forms the European executive body, while the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers primarily form the legislative bodies.


According to the provisions of Article 17, which are being applied for the first time hot on the heels of the European elections: “Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.”


Does this new provision signify that the President of the European Commission should be the same political colour as the party that comes out on top in the European elections, as is the case in the legislative elections in our Member States?


In fact, the European Council of the Heads of State and Government has retained the legal possibility of proposing a candidate independently of the election results, but in that case there is a risk that the Parliament would refuse the choice.


The European Parliament is likely to implement this new provision. The European parties have launched their campaigns for the European elections by each naming their own candidate for the post of President of the Commission: Martin Schulz of Germany for the Party of European Socialists, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg for the European People’s Party, Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, Ska Keller (Germany) and José Bové (France) for the European Green Party, etc.


The heads of state and government have not been keen to validate these proposed candidates. Reluctant to be seen to have the choice imposed on them by the ballot box, they are tending to retain their prerogative of nominating the future President of the Commission by a process of internal, discreet negotiations.


But it turns out that the candidates are in place: these headliners are already pursuing their campaigns on the ground at meetings in various European countries. Presented with a fait accompli, Herman Van Rompuy has therefore decided to call an informal summit of the heads of state and government on 27 May next, that is two days after the elections of 22-25 May, in order to study the results of the voting. “The President of the European Council should verify whether a candidate may obtain a majority in the Parliament,” Mr Van Rompuy explained in an interview. “If the Parliament proposes a candidate supported by a stable and credible majority – not by a mixture of negative votes – this will be an extremely important element.”


The candidate for the post of President of the European Commission will therefore be formally designated by the heads of state and government, probably on the occasion of the European Summit of 26-27 June.


A cosmetic innovation to hide the intergovernmental reality of the EU.

There has been much talk of the election of the President of the European Commission. Given that several candidates are not proposed, but only a single candidate nominated by the European Council, it is in fact a classic appointment procedure, one which was applied in the case of the designation of Mr Barroso. A man of the political right, he was chosen to reflect the victory of the parties of the right in the European elections of 2009.


So what has really changed in the designation of the President of the European Commission?  Without doubt, the fact that the European parties are now designating candidates who are putting themselves forward to the citizens of Europe and running campaigns, thus participating in a further expression of the issues in the elections. It represents a small advance in democratic progress.


As for the rest, it is not certain that one can talk of democracy. Firstly, it is quite paradoxical to state that the President of the European Commission, whose designation is claimed to be more democratic, is primarily designated by the President of the Council, who himself is not chosen totally democratically – his designation is at the discretion of the 28 heads of state and government.


Secondly, this President of the Commission is at the head of an executive body that is now weakened. The European Commission, a Community institution par excellence, has over recent years progressively lost its powers of initiative to the European Council, which now runs the EU along intergovernmental lines.


It is a far cry from the leadership and governing capacity demonstrated by Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission from 1985 to 1994. As for the designers of this Community method, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, they would no doubt be staggered by the interpretation that is now being made of their original European Community project.


Johanna Touzel



Translated from the original text in French

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