Nominations for Commission President: the wrangling has started
While the European elections have renewed the European Parliament, the idea of putting forward the leaders of political groups for the post of Commission President, however, does not seem to be working.
During their informal dinner on 27 May, the EU Heads of State and Government started the process of finding the person who they believe should be head of the European Commission. This will not be an easy task, because consensus must be found not only within the European Council – (and who can be unaware of the virtual veto that one or several Member States may use to block the name of a candidate, even if the Treaty only requires a qualified majority decision?) – but also a majority vote of the Members of the new European Parliament. Following from the European elections, this shall be done by “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations”, as stated in Article 17 §7 of the Treaty of the European Union. Drawing inspiration from a practice (currently in use in the Benelux countries and in the Czech Republic) of appointing an “informateur” (inside source) after the elections, Herman Van Rompuy will take several weeks until the European Summit at the end of June to sound out opinions of representatives of the European Parliament, not only on the matter of the Commission President but also on the priorities for the work programme of the next term, and on names of candidates to fill the other vacant posts at the heads of the European Council and of the Parliament and that of the next High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The members of the European Council have therefore applied the Treaty absolutely to the letter, and that was probably the best thing to do. First of all because the task is complex and will only be resolved at the end of lengthy bargaining sessions in search of compromise and acceptable trade-offs. Then, because we should never forget that even if the Europeans, due to their history and geography, find themselves grouped together, perhaps to share a common fate, the actual Member States of the European Union constitute above all a community of law. They are bound together by the Treaties which fix the rules of the game, and changing the rules when in mid-stream is neither possible nor advisable.
And so there is no guarantee that the future head of the European executive will be one of the heads of a political group proposed for this post by the main European parties during the 25 May elections. Of course, in a Resolution dated 4 July 2013, the MEPs went beyond Article 17 when a large majority invited “the European political parties to nominate their own candidate for the Presidency of the Commission ….” But, by thus wishing to force the hand of the European Council, the outgoing European Parliament has probably been too foolhardy. Wanting to go further than Article 17 of the Treaty with its vague wording by giving it more backbone, probably started off as a laudable idea to spice up the European elections in order to raise the participation rate. However, it turned out to be more of an attempted Parliamentary ‘coup d’etat’, which would have turned the European Council into a body for simply rubber-stamping the electoral results. The Commission President would doubtless have acquired his own legitimacy before Parliament and the balance of the institutions would have been called into question.
In all likelihood, this attempt has not only fizzled out but has also rendered life even more difficult for the Heads of State and Government. It will only serve to increase the feeling of frustration among the voters who, during the whole campaign, have all been sold the idea that one of the canvassing political group heads would indeed become the new Commission President. It will also complicate the task of the person finally chosen to acquire the necessary reputation and credibility that were so sadly lacking in most of his predecessors.
One other potential innovation – because set down in the Treaty - has already been set aside by the Heads of State and Government. According to Article 17 §5 of the Treaty of the Union, the number of Commissioners was supposed to go down on 1 November 2014 to two-thirds of the number of Member States. However, after a unanimous vote in May 2013 and due to honouring a promise made to Ireland after its rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon, once again the number of Commissioners will match the number of Member States in the EU, namely 28.
The participation rate of voting in the European elections of 25 May and the substantial gains of the Eurosceptics have shown that a large number of Europeans are tired of, and no longer believe in, the virtues of building Europe. Once the current bargaining rounds are over, the doubt will increase even further. Banishing this doubt will be the most important and the hardest task for the new people in positions of responsibility at European level. They will have to use their honesty and charisma to restore the confidence of European citizens. Member State governments must support them and so too should all people, including the Christians among them, who share the belief that the European Union should be the guarantor of lasting peace for our continent, and provide an adequate response to the challenges of globalisation.
Translated from the original text in French