Editorial of July 2019

Shaking Hands Teamwork Staff Team Handshake

 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 March 2018

Election_MG_3455

 by Tiago Cabral, member of CEDU

Homeopathic Democracy: The European Power Struggle over the Spitzenkandidaten

1. According to article 17(7), TEU “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”. There are several issues in this article, some of them we even had the opportunity to discuss before.

2. In fact, when talking about the President of the European Commission (EC) it is quite a stretch to state that there is an “election” by the European Parliament (EP). Politically inspired wording notwithstanding, the truth is that the European Council (ECON) holds most of the cards in the selection of EC’s President and the balance of power tends to favour this institution. There are also some notorious similarities between the position of the EP in relation to the ECON in the selection of the President of the EC and the position of the EP in relation to the Council in the consent legislative procedure. While it is possible to argue that there is an “indirectly-indirect election”[i], we believe that it would be more accurate to state that the Parliament approves and has veto power over the ECON’s choice.

3. However, the 2014 elections to the EP brought with them a rather interesting innovation: the Spitzenkandidaten (leading candidate). This procedure aims to give “direct” or at least “quasi-direct” democratic legitimacy to the President of the EC by tying the nomination to the EP’s elections. First the political parties choose their leading candidate, then the people vote, then the ECON and EP obey their will by confirming candidate chosen by the citizens[ii]. There is some debate on who should be nominated by the ECON and approved by the EP, the candidate from the party who won the most seats in the elections or the candidate from the coalition best placed to guarantee a passing majority. Under the current Spitzenkandidaten rules the second choice seems to make the most sense. Nevertheless, it seems likely that in the current European political climate the candidate from the biggest party will also be the best positioned to achieve a solid majority.
Continue reading “Editorial of March 2018”