Governments and elections
Imagine what a scandal would follow if a general election in any EU Member State led to the nomination of a Prime Minister from a party that clearly lost. Worse still, if the policy programme that the Prime Minister designate presented ignored the manifesto commitments of the parties which had won the elections and was written instead by the civil servants according to the guidelines set down by a previous administration.
And yet this, by analogy, is exactly what we are supposed to accept on the EU level. Commissioners are nominated by national governments without the slightest regard to the outcome of EP elections, and without any attempt to base the nomination of the European Executive on a coherent parliamentary coalition. The European executive is chosen despite, not because of the people’s will. Moreover the programme proposed by the new Commission is prepared in a way that does not reflect the outcome of any democratic vote, and hence has to stand – or fall – on its technocratic power rather than on its public legitimacy.
It is not surprising in these circumstances that European elections are considered national referenda, as the visible impact of voting for one or another party is nil. Unlike in national elections a rise in vote for one party will not influence future policy in any clear and demonstrable way and does not change the faces of those “in power”. In this context, the addition of further co-decision to the EP’s armoury will do little to change this impression of impotence, as the parties cannot set forward what they would do if elected, because the Commission has the monopoly of policy proposal. This has been the basis for the long standing EP demand for a right to legislative initiative, but misses the reality of modern government: even where Parliaments legally have the sole right to initiative (as in the US Congress), it is only the executive which is capable of providing the unity of view needed to make coherent policy. European elections are thus hardly likely to prove more relevant to the European public until a clearer association can be made between voting and the initiation of policy by a European Executive.
No need to wait for a Constitution!
The existing Treaties already contain enough to facilitate the development of a European parliamentary government. To start with, the terms of office of the Commission and Parliament coincide, leaving the possibility of linking the outcome of the EP elections and the selection of President (and subsequent Commissioners). Secondly, Parliament has to vote approval of the new Commission President and college of Commissioners. Although this is a right of veto (Member States retain the monopoly on power to nominate) if Parliament refused any candidate who did not build an explicit parliamentary coalition, the European Council would have to take note. As in many continental systems, the parties could then negotiate a political programme as the basis of their supporting a ’Commission coalition’. At last the voters’ choice would have a direct impact on the policies proposed and personalities chosen, in turn strengthening the Commission’s hand vis-à-vis Member States.
Better still, the electorate should demand the choice now!
Why wait until after the dust has settled? If we are to have a truly democratic European Union, the electorate should know now, before the elections, which party is going to support which Presidential candidate on the basis of what platform.
Given the likely incapacity of many parties to articulate this as and of themselves, it is time for democrats in all countries to take the initiative. At public and party meetings around the whole of Europe, candidates and leaders should be asked to name their party’s candidate for President of the Commission. When – as they inevitably will – those asked look blank, or suggest it is not their responsibility, it should be politely, but very firmly pointed out it is absolutely their job, indeed it will be the first major political decision they will be required to make in the new Parliament.
Those who support this idea are encouraged to pass it on!