Editorial of July 2019

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 by Pedro Froufe, Editor
 and Tiago Cabral, Master's student in EU Law at UMinho


Democracy, negotiation, personal ambitions and backroom deals: the moment of truth for the spitzenkandidaten

1. Last year we had the opportunity to write about the spitzenkandidaten procedure for selecting the President of the European Commission (hereinafter, “EC”) and the power struggle that was brewing between the Institutions with the spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate) at its centre. Knowing what the spitzenkandidaten procedure is and how it works is indispensable for understanding the current essay, thus if the reader is not familiar with it, we would ask you take a few minutes to read our May 2018 editorial before continuing.

2. With the Juncker’s Commission term of office about to reach its end (31 October 2019) and with a new European Parliament (hereinafter, “EP”) with a quite different composition starting its work on 2 July second it is time to select a new President of the EC and, in fact, also the Presidents of the European Parliament and of the European Council (hereinafter “ECON”). Moreover, a new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and a new President of the European Central Bank will have to be selected shortly. As it is possible to recognize there are a plethora of senior and highly influential positions that will be selected by one or both the EP and the ECON in a very short timeframe. This, of course, will lead to difficult negotiations which creates an obstacle for the spitzenkandidaten procedure because it takes out what is, arguably, the most valuable prize from the table before it can even be in play. As we know the EC has a truly European and supranational character and, for many, due to its powers and competences the EC can be seen as the true “executive” power in the European Union. Furthermore, even if the EP and the Council (of the European Union) are the co-legislators and the ECON defines the broad political priorities, it is the EC who has the prerogative of, in most cases, proposing the laws. The European constitutional design means that the balance in power tilts heavily in favour of the Commission.

3. Obviously, the spitzenkandidaten would not be in danger if there was a clear majority in the EP (either by a coalition or a single party) that could impose its lead candidate to the ECON. As we have stated previously, we are not of the opinion that the candidate of the party that got the most seats automatically gets the right to be President of the EC. That is no more than an oversimplification of the procedure and would be only suited for a system with direct elections (which we actually find the ideal solution). The leading candidate of the party with the largest parliamentary representation will, in most cases, be in the premium position to achieve this objective. After all, there is an unwritten rule or, more accurately, a democratic practice that whoever wins the elections, even absent a majority, should get the position or at least get the first opportunity to try to form the necessary coalition. However, we should not forget that democracy, whether in, is national or supranational is first and foremost the pursuit of consensus. The “burden” to find said consensus and build a coalition in the EP that allows him/her to be selected as President of the EC rests on the candidate. If the candidate that got the most votes, but no majority is unable to do and someone else is, it means that someone else is able to command a broader democratically elected coalition and, therefore, having superior democratic legitimacy should be selected instead.
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Editorial of April 2019

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 by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Editor


First steps in a literacy campaign for a European political community – what is the EU based on the Rule of Law?

When one is asked to approach the legal dimension in a panel on the theme «European political community and cosmopolitan literacy»[i], one is confronted with the vastness and multiplicity of the subject, the critical nature of its importance and the overwhelming responsibility of the task… Underlying it are crucial questions about how to approach – in the sense of conceiving, accepting and, above all, living – the European Union as our collective destiny. And the challenge is also to discern the role of the Law in this endeavour aimed at building, revealing the meaning and living in a European political community.

That said, before embarking on an EU literacy campaign, a preliminary step would likely be to undertake what could be called a literacy campaign of the Law. And the reason is obvious: the European integration process is, above all, a process of integration through Law. From the very beginning, the European integration process has sought to «unite the peoples of Europe», to employ the terminology of the Treaties, not by the force of weapons, but by the force of norms – which, to a certain extent, consequently converts jurists into soldiers of the European integration process and of building a European political community – hence the overwhelming responsibility…
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Chronos vs. Brexit: why extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit might not be a feasible solution for the EU

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 by Tiago Cabral, Member of CEDU

1. If everything goes according to plan, the United Kingdom (UK) is currently set to leave the European Union (EU) on 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. That is the date enshrined on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the British Government has a deal that, in theory, allows the UK to leave in the planned timeframe. Remarkably, the EU has managed to keep an extremely (and surprising) united front regarding the Brexit negotiations. It is noteworthy that the message from the Chairman of the Austrian People’s Party and current Austrian Prime-Minister Sebastian Kurz perfectly mirrors the one expressed by Jean-Claude Juncker or Donald Tusk.

2. However, in the UK nothing is going according to plan for Prime-Minister Theresa May. After the deal was announced and its contents revealed a number of ministers – both brexiters and remainers – resigned from the cabinet. Seizing the opportunity to press for a harder Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the current chairman of the “European Research Group” (a group of hard-Brexit leaning MPs) started pushing for a vote on May’s leadership of the conservative party and (in practice) premiership. Said attempted failed to get the backing of enough MPs (for now) but could find new breath if the current deal is rejected by parliament. On that note, the current deal is most likely than not to be indeed rejected. About 100 conservative MPs have already stated on record that they would vote against it, and most of the opposition parties (including the DUP that has been keeping the government afloat) promised to do the same. The vote is set to happen on 11 December.
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Editorial of May 2017

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

Europe: “Ceci c’est pas une pipe!”

Populism has manifested itself not only in the form of public (or at least published) streams of public opinion, but also through the result of (naturally) democratic and legitimate electoral acts. And such cases of populisms materialised in the exercise of representative democracy, generated in the democratic institutional functioning in the context of the rule of law, begin to not be unusual. Deep down, we have seen expressions of populism that acquire power and influence (sometimes determining), with an anti-democratic tendency, created by democracy itself.

Populism appears nowadays as especially adjusted, attractive and intellectually comfortable for a considerable part of the European and American population (in other words, for a large amount of the electorate). There are, as I see it, several reasons, mostly articulated, that cause this relative outbreak now with direct political consequences – that considerably surpass the juridical-constitutional dimension. Those causes are not exclusively attributable to dysfunctions in the dynamics of the democratic institutions.

Such reasons are rooted also in something deeper and concrete than the legal abstraction or the political activity and representation: it has to do, to a great extent, with our current way of life and cosmovision in the context of the technical societies of information and – why not say it – abundance. It should be noted that the intention is not to disregard the existence of reasons attributable to the bad juridical architecture and the bad political functioning (or even the bad performance of politicians); but they are not the only explanatory causes for populist phenomena that disturb democracy….

I won’t reflect or develop, at this occasion, the issue of the causes non-directly juridical, or institutional, of populism. They might also be sociological and cultural tendencies; they could be as well a reaction to extremisms, relativisms and the loss of collective references resulting from the erosion of gregarious institutions, social and natural. That erosion has a lot to do with the overvaluing and a revival of tendencies (neo)hedonist and (neo)utilitarianist which have been potentialized particularly well with the economic growth, modernity (especially in the post-war) and, lately, with the immediacy (created by technology and consequent globalisation). From the legal perspective, such relativism makes it difficult to understand normatively the basic principle of equality, turning it into a principle of the existential relativism: everything is equal to its opposite, blurring and even disabling normative senses, decisions and value options, as everything is equivalent.

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Editorial of February 2017

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor
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On the Southern EU countries summit – challenges of democracy in times of austerity and dismay

Last Saturday, 28 January 2017, seven Member States from the south of Europe (Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain) gathered in Lisbon to send the message of their national public opinions to the public opinions of the other Member States of the Union: surely the EU has to fight terrorism and to adopt a cohesive migration policy but such issues cannot bypass the attention towards the economic problem. It is a clamour of the Southern Europe in the regard that economic convergence becomes priority in the EU’s strategy through policies that create financial capacity in the euro zone and the development of European programmes to support investment. In the horizon, there would be solutions which involve a larger risk sharing – as the adoption of common taxes, an European system of bank deposit guarantee, common debt issue (eurobonds) as well as policies of positive discrimination in favour of indebted Member States that fulfil the adjustment rules.

The message of the citizens from the south of Europe holds that they advanced in the structural reforms and budgetary consolidation as much as it was possible (and the results in Spain and Portugal, mostly, are clear). But under the current circumstances of strong indebtedness and high unemployment it’s impossible to carry on without some relief from the financing constraints. Otherwise the Mediterranean societies will be driven to a situation of social rupture with unpredictable consequences, considering the populisms that lurk around. All that is inserted in a broader debate that the European institutions are facing on how to produce more jobs and better economic performance so that the European citizens can again see the European integration as an asset in their lives. It wasn’t for a different reason that in the first session of January the European Parliament approved a report on the Social Pillar (here). In the same regard, in March the European Commission will submit proposals aiming at reinforcing the social rights – that is, the access to minimum wage and minimum insertion allowances, access to a compulsory health insurance, extinction of unpaid internships, etc. In a year in which there are elections in several Member States, the strengthening of social protection means a European strategy to hinder the adhesion to populist movements.

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