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Monday, June 16, 2014

A closer look at Juncker's "popular mandate" - is he really the People's President?

Forget Cameron. Forget the personal merits or otherwise of Jean-Claude Juncker. The question of who ought to become the next Commission President goes a lot deeper. Supporters of the 'spitzenkandidaten' concept say that it represents genuine 'EU democracy', and that since the national centre-right parties belonging to the European People’s Party (EPP) won the most seats in the European Parliament, Juncker has a “popular mandate” to become the next Commission President, and that therefore, national governments are obliged to nominate him at the European Council summit later this month.

However, Open Europe has compiled some figures which put these claims to democratic legitimacy into sharp context.

Click here to enlarge
Did Juncker really 'win the European elections?

Out of a total electorate of approximately 395 million people, 40.3 million (10.2%) voted for EPP affiliated parties. However, this falls to 38.4m (9.7%) when you take out Sweden and Hungary, where the EPP parties made a point of not endorsing the spitzenkandidaten process and/or Juncker’s candidacy in particular.

A handful people on twitter have predictably vented their frustration at the flaws within the UK's democratic system, trying to somehow show that, in fact, Juncker does have a strong public mandate after all. Arguments include that David Cameron himself was only on the ballot in one constituency and therefore is elected by some 33,000 people. This is of course silly. If we want to play this game, the Tories contest virtually every constituency in the UK and it was blatantly clear that if they emerged as the largest party, Cameron would become the Prime Minister. As we demonstrate below, in the European elections, even those voting for EPP parties did not know they were effectively casting a vote 'for Juncker'. In addition,. turnout in the last UK general election (65.1%) was around a third higher than in the European elections (43.1%). We can go on and on.

He was not even supported by a majority of EPP delegates

When Juncker was chosen as the EPP's official candidate at the group's March congress in Dublin he only received 382 delegates' votes, less than half of the 800 who were eligible to vote. 245 delegates voted for Michel Barnier instead, and 173 did not vote at all. There is no publicly available list of who the delegates were or how they voted.

Only around a third of voters knew Juncker was even in the race

In reality, far less than 9.7% can be said to have genuinely voted 'for Juncker' given that the majority (outside of his native Luxembourg) did not know that he was standing - or even who he was.

A poll commissioned by the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformers immediately after the European elections found that unprompted, only 8.2% of respondents were able to name Juncker as one of the lead candidates, and only 8.8% were able to name the EPP or any other EU-level political party. When prompted, only 25.9% of respondents (33.9% of voters) were able to identify Juncker, and only 24.4% of respondents (30.8% of voters) were able to identify the EPP.

The poll also found that less than 30% of respondents (41.3% of voters, 17.3% of non-voters) were aware that their vote in the European elections indirectly supports one of the European political parties’ candidates as the next President of the European Commission. Only 1 in 10 of respondents (10.1%) endorsed this process, suggesting two-thirds of those aware of it did not.

An Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag published two weeks before the elections found that even in Germany - where politicians and commentators have taken up his case with zeal - only 7% could identify Juncker as the centre-right’s leading candidate (13% among CDU/CSU voters).

This completely demolishes the argument that the majority of those who voted for national centre-right parties were aware they were actively casting a vote either for the EPP or for Juncker.


Anonymous said...

The eussr is a by word for democratic deficiency, and yet they harp on to other nations about democracy.

Peter van Leeuwen said...

Skewed number juggling turns think tanks into lobby groups.
One might argue that only than 0.07% of the UK electorate ever voted for Cameron (a few people in the Witney safe-seat constituency) and that his party has roughly the same 30% popular vote as the EPP in the European elections. If most of the 751 people representatives are to support Juncker, that has to be taken into account as well.
Wouldn't it be far better for Open Europe to focus on the programme and priorities for the European institutions than on the individuals who may be selected to chair them?

un said...

The choice lies with national governments. If they decide moving in a more federal direction is important they will back Juncker. He may not be the best candidate now but once the principle is fixed that the EP elects the Commissioner the range of candidates will be wider in 2019 and interest in the process will be greater.

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem with the E.U is not the euro or integration in to Europe but the lack of democratic accountability
How many European citizens actually voted for President Barroso or come to that how many European citizens actually voted for the Euro.
Democracy is not a pick and mix you either use it all the time or you don't which then means you are not a full democracy society.
It has been said that under it's own rules on democratic accountability the E.U would not allow it's self to join the E.U
Without getting to over emotional about it people in the past have died to win the right to vote ( and are still dying in parts of the world today for the same rights ) so people like me and others can vote but the vote is only part of it also insures everyone is entitled to an opinion and also has the right to express that opinion
A quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall on Voltaire " I disapprove of what you say but i will defend to the death your right to say it"
And that is truth that should not be forgotten

Anonymous said...

Yes, but all your numbers really make the EP's point: Hardly anyone cares or knows anything about the EP parties or who might become the next EC president; and the votes are cast primarily to express frustration to national governments. That is problem, what we need is a solution.

If the EC president is chosen via the usual horse-trading in a backroom deal, if the heads of government continue to ignore the voters when they choose the him or her, then this disinterest will never go away.

The lead candidate system has the potential to change this electoral apathy, and that is why I welcome it. You don't change the democratic deficit overnight, but this is a step in the right direction. Once the voters see that their votes actually make an immediate, visible difference, they will start caring.

Denis Cooper said...

That's all very fine and quite clever, but you are still totally ignoring the most important point of all: that "democracy" requires a "demos", and as yet there is no self-identifying pan-European "demos", as indeed the German constitutional court pointed out in one of its verdicts; and at any level beyond the national level any attempt at democracy, that is to say purported transnational democracy, actually means no democracy at all.

Putting that another way, Peter van Leeuwen is Dutch, and as he is not a British citizen I am not willing to be outvoted by him on matters concerning my country, which is my country, not his; he should stop poking his nose into our national affairs and go and cast his vote in his own country, the Netherlands, where his own Dutch compatriots may be willing to accept his contribution to some kind of majority verdict on the future of their own country.

The old saying is that "Good fences make good neighbours"; and that is all that Peter and I are, neighbours; we are not parts of the same people and I would appreciate it if he could finally bring himself to accept that, and stop coming around with his uninvited and unwanted interference in our business.

Peter van Leeuwen said...

@Denis Cooper:
Hey Denis, were you invited? This is a site about Europe, not about the UK!
On much of the continent, borders are mainly something of the past (Schengen) army units and police forces are sometimes merged, fences are not always wanted obstacles, and a European demos is slowly taking shape. It will take time, but it will happen, possibly even in your lifetime. Continental Europe are making things as bearable possible for the UK, which joined the EU 100% voluntarily and can always decide to leave, is its “democracy” so ordains :)

Peter van Leeuwen said...

@Denis Cooper:
Hey Denis, were you invited? This is a site about Europe, not about the UK!
On much of the continent, borders are mainly something of the past (Schengen) army units and police forces are sometimes merged, fences are not always wanted obstacles, and a European demos is slowly taking shape. It will take time, but it will happen, possibly even in your lifetime. Continental Europe are making things as bearable possible for the UK, which joined the EU 100% voluntarily and can always decide to leave, is its “democracy” so ordains :)

Jesper said...

There is no legal requirement that the biggest party group gets to nominate the commission president.

If such a thing is wanted then do it legal and change the treaties first.

As is, the EP is seen to be attempting a power-grab.

Denis Cooper said...

Peter -

"a European demos is slowly taking shape"

Maybe in your country but certainly not in this country, where a great majority are fed up with foreigners like you constantly interfering and trying to tell us what to do and only a small minority want any more European integration at all.

A small minority of oddballs like Clegg, who apparently is now in a state of depression that his ideas are so unpopular.

Anonymous said...

I respect your point of view, Denis Cooper. But you fail to understand that many countries in Continental Europe are very much in favour of deeper integration. Do you respect their point of view, too?

How about, instead of telling us how deeply we may or may not integrate our countries, you convince your own sacred "demos" to make up their minds and either accept deeper integration, or leave the EU already? No one forced the UK to join, and you have no right to hold the rest of us back.

By joining the EU, you did indeed invite us to interfere on issues that affect us all. Accept it, or leave. Stop telling us what we can or cannot vote for.

Marie Ximena said...

1. When you vote without being informed, or choose not to vote, you are just as responsible for the results of the elections as if you had been an enlightened voter, which renders this whole article pointless. As long as the informations were available (which they were - the Spitzenkandidaten process and Juncker's candidacy were very clear), you just cannot claim that the election is illegitimate.

2. The Spitzenkandidaten process is a perfectly valid interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty and the EP groups were crystal clear about their endorsement of this process months before the elections. It is not them who are at fault for not seeking a formal approval from the Council - as they are using an institutionally valid procedure and were clear about it - but it is Cameron and his allies who are fools and hypocrites for not saying a thing until after the elections. The voters who were informed on the matter (as they should) were told they were indirectly voting for the President of the Commission, which is permitted by the institutional setting of the EU (the EP can perfectly veto any college of Commissioners which is not headed by Juncker), and the Council's silence before the elections was (and rightly so) perceived as acquiescence.

Marie Ximena said...

3. Just a quick reminder that the so-called "Spitzenkandidaten process" is more commonly known as a "parliamentarian system"... and it is the exact same system which is used in the UK, where you don't vote directly for a PM but for a party, knowing that if it wins a majority in the House of Commons its leader will be named PM. And if a large part of the British electorate were to ignore who the leaders of the parties were, it wouldn't change a thing about the results of the elections - as long as the informations were clear and available before the elections.

4. Regarding the question of EU democracy, as Peter van Leeuwen stated, the UK entered the EEC willingly and its democratically elected leaders accepted every single treaty change leading to this institutional setting where pan-European elections are held and have consequences on the lives of EU citizens, and where the President of the Commission can be elected by qualified majority voting. I agree, major decisions (entering the EEC, signing the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties) would have been more democratic if approved by referenda, but having the democratically elected head of government sign it still fills the minimal requirements for democracy (and all the more so when such a decision was a clear part of a party's programme before its election). Therefore -- you may not be happy, but these elections are legitimate. You have a democratic right to want out of the EU, but as long as you are in it, a Dutch citizen can cast a vote which will have a consequence on your life in the UK.

Jesper said...

Some EU-supporters might benefit by understanding the rule of law.

If there are multiple interpretations of a point of law then one of two things happen:
-it is referred to the courts for interpretation
-it is referred back to legislators to clarify the point of law

There is ambiguity and in my opinion the ambiguity is sufficiently large and most certainly important enough to be referred back to the legislators - i.e. the treaties need to be changed to clarify this.