If you would like to understand how British see the European Union you only have to read the blog post from Anthony Salamone “The European Council should not feel obliged to choose any of the leading candidates as President of the European Commission” on EUROPP – European Politics and Policy run be the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The author gives us many reasons why the next president of the European Commission does not have to be the winning Spitzenkandidat of the last European election.
Here are some of his arguments and my comments on why he is badly wrong. Original quotes in italics and inverted commas:
The idea was that each party should have a leading candidate (frequently called by its German name, Spitzenkandidat) and after the election the European Council should simply nominate the designated candidate from the party with the greatest number of seats. (…)This process is not provided for in the treaties nor was it agreed with the Member States in legislation.
It is not mentioned in the treaties but this is how democracy works. If the European Council should consider the outcome of the European elections those elections have to be operationalized. That is why every democracy has political parties that organise the distribution of power passed over via democratic elections. The sole vote by citizens does not help, democracy needs organisation like in very nation state. Nobody would question that. The system of Spitzenkandidaten is not mentioned in many nation states. We only talk about elections and the results knowing that everything (incl. Spitzenkandidaten) is organised by the political parties.
In any case, most voters across the EU had little idea who the candidates were before Election Day.
The question is who is to blame – democracy or the voters who are not interested. Voting is in many countries not obligatory. If people are not interested so be it. They have every opportunity to get the information. Democracy is not a one way street. Sure, democracy should try to animate citizens to get active, but it is also the citizens who have the duty to inform themselves about their community and may it be the European one.
First, as stated, no legal basis exists mandating that the Commission President be proposed from nominations by the Parliament or its parties.
Wrong. The author himself quotes the respective article of the Treaty of Lisbon “Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament“. Parliament and the political parties have done nothing except putting forward the will of the European citizens expressed in democratic elections.
Second, voters suffered from a substantial lack of choice among the candidates. (…)They all favour more European integration to address the EU’s biggest challenges. Indeed, they are all Brussels veterans, certainly with a great deal of experience, but not necessarily with an outsider’s perspective.
Eurosceptic parties have gained in recent elections and they are a clear opposition to the other political parties that are in favour of European integration. Every citizen could have voted for a Eurosceptic party giving them an overall European majority. Than, the European Council would have to nominate a Eurosceptic President of the European Commission. But they did not get an overall majority in Europe. Again, this is democracy – the winner gets the job like in the UK no matter how different or equal the contestants have been.
Third, the initiative didn’t increase voter turnout. It was 43 per cent across the EU in 2009, and it remained virtually the same in 2014.
What would you do if the turnout in the UK would fall sharply because British citizens are not any more interested in national elections? Nothing. Still the winning candidate would become Prime Minister maybe trying to raise voter turnout in the next election. A low turnout is bad but it never reduces the legitimacy of the elected parties.
European parliament elections are seen as a national election based on national and local issues. They are frequently used to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with parties in government.
Why behave like this? European elections are European elections and if voters do not know it we have to keep on telling them. As we can see the elections are important as they determine who will be the president of the next European Commission. Moreover the European Parliament has many powers and that is why citizens should take it serious.
The Council’s clear role is to nominate the President, for approval by the Parliament. (…)The treaties make them more or less equal on the matter. If the Council can only accept the candidates the Parliament dictates, they are certainly not equal.
No. The Parliament elects, it is not an approval of an independent nomination done behind closed doors without transparency by the European Council. These times are over. The new basis is the democratic election for the European Parliament. The citizens decide that’s what democracy is for.