No one seems to be too happy about the results of the Spitzenkandidaten-procedure: Domestic governments feel a sense of loss of power; Juncker only reluctantly accepted his new position; older EU idealists like Neil Kinnock see a threat to the Commission’s equidistance and independence. What about the 1989 generation? For us the Spitzenkandidaten-procedure doesn’t go far enough.
As it stands equidistance is no longer given, as the EP has strong control over the president and his cabinet. At the same time, citizens don’t have the ability to determine who will become Commission President.
First of all citizens do not possess a passive voting right (that is to be nominated for the position), as the nominations are determined by and within the European party families. Then again we don’t exactly have European parties; just loose groups.
We are only allowed to vote for national parties at EP elections, however. This in itself is a problem as the EP is supposed to represent European interests and not national interests.
On the platform votewatch.eu citizens can view and compare how MEPs of different parties voted. This process is already complicated enough, but if I were to compare results from 2009-2014 I would e.g. find that I agree most with the voting behaviour of a few SPÖ members in my voting state Austria, but only to about 60%, whereas I would have agreed with most Lib Dem MEPs up to 90% in the UK and even 100% with a single MEP from Romania. I can neither vote for the Lib Dems, nor for the Romanian MEP, unless I were to register in the UK and fly over for the elections, which is far too expensive, troublesome and would be impossible to arrange for all of Europe. Even if we all were able to book a flight on the same day to the appropriate region, I would still be unable to cast my preferential vote for the Romanian candidate, even though he is in the same party family.
Lastly, I may want to elect members of S&D into parliament, but see Juncker as president, instead of Schulz, or see an EPP majority in parliament, but Guy Verhofstadt as president.
As long as EP elections are not truly European elections, the direct election of the Commission president is paramount. Even after such reform it would be prudent, as strong leadership is usually built on bipartisanship.
Winston Churchill was a member of the Unionists (conservatives) and the Liberal Party. He chose his war cabinet from competent members of all parties and championed new fundamental policies like the minimum wage, which are now systematically dismantled by the current Tory government in the UK.
Great leaders are not dependant on party origin and neither are great policies. Citizens’ policy preferences on average are usually slightly left off centre. Domestic governments often fail to implement policies preferred by the majority of citizens. With this in mind, the Commission president’s role was designed to be an impartial legislator, who was not bound by party preferences and short-termism.
Direct election will overcome the former problem and short-termism can easily be broken by increasing the term length of the presidency. The only reason why people fear to suggest a 10 year legislative period is because they do not want to be associated with supporting what could be perceived as a dictatorship. Yet some parties, like the Austrian SPÖ and ÖVP have been in government for almost 70 years*. Their policy packages are always heavily criticised and unfavourable to the population, yet here we still speak of democracy, despite an apparent lack of output legitimacy.
A directly elected 10 year president with no chance of re-election is capable of focussing on implementing his/her plan without any worries and is still held accountable by the EP, while not having to fear being sacked at the EP’s whim, as the citizens are responsible for his/her election, not the EP. Meanwhile the EP can continue to be reconstituted every 5 years, providing the Commission with an updated view of the population’s feelings towards their government and on salient European issues.
The direct election of the Commission president, combined with EP election reforms is in the interest of both the 58er generation (referring to the Treaty of Rome) and the 89ers, as it will reinstate the independence of the Commission, while making it more political and democratically accountable.
*Either one or both those parties have been in government since the end of WWII, with a strong corporatist system built around both of them.1989 Generation Initiative