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.
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