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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Battle for next Commission President is a proxy for a wider debate between two competing visions of Europe

Our Director Mats Persson writes on his Telegraph blog:
"Something is rotten in Europe” was the German newspaper Die Welt’s damming take on the European elections, which last week saw record numbers vote for anti-establishment parties of various shades. The lesson is simple: offer voters a binary choice between “more Europe” and “no Europe”, and eventually they will choose the latter. The answer must be sweeping reform.

Many in the European Parliament are bent on not learning this lesson – and have claimed the "democratic" right to appoint the next head of the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission. Many EU leaders disagree, rightly arguing that this isn’t what the EU treaties say at all. This has triggered a maddening stand-off, perplexing Brussels observers and voters alike. But this is a hugely important proxy battle between two competing visions: one of an EU-lite, centred around the single market with national parliaments as the ultimate democratic check. Or “ever closer union” with Brussels and the EP at the centre of a supra-national democracy.

Having MEPs appoint the Commission's president will do nothing to boost democratic accountability in the EU. Europe lacks a common political space (a demos) – none of the main UK political parties have backed the main EP candidates. Neither do MEPs have more legitimacy than democratically elected national leaders. Consider, for example, that across the EU average turnout in national elections is around the 70 per cent mark – compared to 43 per cent in last week’s European elections.

To add fuel to the fire, MEPs have nominated the very personification of Europe’s old orthodoxy – the arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker. PM of Luxembourg for 18 years, he once said of the controversial Lisbon Treaty that “of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”

David Cameron is now scrambling to block Juncker and he may just succeed – Germany’s Angela Merkel, who tends to decide such things, could graciously move him to another EU top job (an improvement at least). So, if not Juncker, then who? Well, the race is wide open.

The centre-right will have the first go by virtue of “winning” the European elections.

The potential runners and riders include IMF Managing Director and former French finance minister Christine Lagarde – a frenchwoman with an Anglo-Saxon twist, she appeals to many Brits, but would sit awkwardly with François Hollande’s Socialist government.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny would be naturally close to the UK, but if seen as a Cameron puppet in the EU, it might well backfire.

“The EU without Britain is like fish without chips,” said former Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen, another candidate who may go down well in London but may lack the necessary gravitas.

Opting for Polish prime minister Donald Tusk would be complicated: though sympathetic on free trade and an atlanticist, he has gone cold on Cameron in the wake of the Prime Minister’s remarks about EU migration.

Alternatively, a candidate from the Baltic states – such as Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskite – could be parachuted in at the last minute as a compromise.

Ironically, from Cameron’s point of view, one of the three front-runners on the centre-left – which could yet end up being selected depending on who gets other EU top jobs – might be preferable.

Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt ticks many boxes: a Scandinavian social democrat sympathetic to free trade, the concerns of non-euro states and, amid domestic pressure, potentially an ally in re-writing EU rules on migrants’ access to benefits.

Former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta is a federalist (like most Italian politicians) but has talked of treaty changes providing “a more flexible Europe in the interest of the UK.”

Former Head of the World trade Organisation Pascal Lamy is a rare breed – a French Socialist with a penchant for free trade.

Or, this being Europe, it could be someone completely different. What’s clear is that whoever comes out on top will be an indicator of Cameron’s chances of achieving sweeping change ahead of a potential 2017 referendum. The stakes are huge.


Jesper said...

Is/was Juncker a real candidate or is/was he a decoy?

Pretend to support him, withdraw support as a 'concession' and then put forward the real candidate with increased chances of getting that candidate nominated?
Would politicians do something like that? :-)

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be great if some sort of stalemate developed so that nothing gets decided?

Anti-EU parties should consider the possibility of publicly denying legitimacy to any and all candidates.

Average Englishman said...

And thus our new 'Great Leader' is to be crowned; the annointed, 'chosen' one who will be in charge of the creation of 75% of the UK's laws, who was not voted for by any electorate and who will be completely democratically unaccountable.

This whole shambolic travesty of democracy is a disgrace and an affront to the people of Europe. If anyone wonders why the far right is obtaining more power from the voters of Europe they need look no further than this farce of a horse deal.

I hope that Nigel Farage and others will have a few choice words for him or her when they get the chance; just to remind them of their true place in the affections of the people they rule.

Am I the only one to find it shameful to see a democratically elected Prime Minster of the UK pleading for favours with Angela Merkel and others to try and get someone appointed to this position of power who might just possibly be prepared to at least talk about some sensible changes to the EUSSR? Dave will not earn the cudos he is hoping for from the UK public for participating in this pantomime, even if he does remember to brush off the dust from his knees before he comes home 'in triumph'.

Anonymous said...

All of this is pointless until the EU accepts that it has no mandate for anything.

The place to start is to ask the people what they want - and having seen what they have gotten they will all vote for less (or more likely a NO) rather than more.

Europe's politicians have made a mess of Europe.

I do not accept my future (or that of my country - a G7 economy) being determined by mechanisms such as EU "enhanced cooperation" against our national interest.


Rik said...

1. Looks basically not a bad idea from Cameron to attack Juncker.
Short term he looks probably the most crap EU wide (may be Schultz just beats him here) and certainly UK wide.
Juncker is simply the best known candidate and heavily linked with the combination Euro-crisis and lying when it gets important).

2. Makes Cameron be seen as stepping up for his country. And likely increases his credibility at home (providing he wins this battle). If he doesnot make it, it will likely backfire. Had to be sure before he started the thing. If he is no idea tbo.
Only still mainly reacting not acting.

3. Alternatives look crap all over the board. Too EU related (like Juncker), flat unappealing people (that might work in a home country but never all over the continent).
Priority should be restore credibility not politicaly acceptable.
All pretty predictable btw a few female nitwits (without beard this time) to meet the quota. Could only not find somebody with a 3rd world background EUbama or so.
Different would work great here if it is quality different, if it is quota different like with this bunch it will backfire. Goes well for 1 or 2 years until people find out.

4. To do a deal with Juncker as President looks imho half as bad. He simply gives the impression of a dodgy second hand car dealer. Better sort of people to deal with (but count your fingers afterwards) than preudo EU-religious fanatics like the other 2 MEPs. With the first sort you can at least do a deal, with the latter you might get stuck somewhere in their EUld testament.

5. Not for Cameron he has other priorities but for the EUrophiles they have managed this one as lousy as humanly possible.
-Coming up with 3 undigestible candidates in the first place.
-Undemocratic dog and pony show for appointing.
-Very likely end up with unappealing and lousy candidate anyway.
A lot of the present work should have been done pre-election so people at least would partially have had the idea they had a choice (and not one between the guillotine or the electric chair, like now while ending up with a lethal injection at the end anyway).
If you want to further erode the democratic profile of the thing this is probably exactly what you want.

Anonymous said...

What difference does it make which Eurofascist is installed in the EUSSR Commission?

They all dance to the same corporatist tune.

An English European said...

There is a certain oddness in eurosceptics trumpeting this criticism that the EU is "undemocratic" and then doing everything they can to block someone who has the very democratic mandate required - i.e. Jean Claude Juncker - from heading the Commission.

Anonymous said...

One has to wonder if an English european has read anything in this piece before posting that Junker has any democratic mandate.

Rik said...

@An English European.

Partly it is odd. And as I wrote earlier it would be much better for them to have had this discussion before the election (and come up with candidates that would be better digestible than the current 3).

The problem is however as well that what you describe as a very democratic mandate is extremely thin. Low turn out, no public influence in appointing the candidates, a parliament with 'unusual' powers, only voting in the own country, candidates that are a PR disaster everywhere but in their own country.

Looking from a real democratic mandate perspective it is probably closer to what would happen in DPRK. Not a joke just do the test on all relevant points and the EP looks horrible.

So if you want to bring up real democratic mandates a lot of other stuff looks more important than a certain Mr Juncker's party with the appeal of a turd get most votes.
It should start however somewhere and I fully agree that this looks like another chance waisted.

Anonymous said...

The article is internally not coherent. Firstly, the Lisbon Treaty specifies that the Council appoints/chooses a candidate for the President of the Commission. This candidate has then to be approved (or rejected...) by the Parliament. An effort, as I see it, that requires cooperation etween the two democratically elected powers, the Council and the EP. But Persson insists on the Council having its say alone. Persson insists that the EPP carries no weight because the UK main parties are not represented in it. Well, of course not, Cameron was stupid enough to pull his MEPs out and start his own coalition with a bunch of right wing and dubious facists. Finally Persson ends his statement with "a winning candidate could be one of these. Or this being Europe, somebody totally different". Well, Mr Persson if there is an effort to make the process more transparent and less backroom hassle among the heads of state in the council, why are you against it and bringing it back to "this being Europe". I do not need your answer - simply because this is a blog about something totally different than "Open Europe".