EU ZMK's Diary

Not always the biggest party gives the political lead. Securing political support is the Golden Key of political leadership. The same applies to the EU. I argue that Schulz and not Juncker holds better cards in that game.

About European elections and the nomination procedure of the Commission President candidate

The European Council composed of 28 heads of state and government has the right to nominate the new President of the Commission but the nomination requires the yes or no vote of the European Parliament. What are the implications?

First, the legal condition is the support of Member States. Historically and traditionally, the nomination was the privilege of the political leaders, and they very much preferred to make that decision behind closed doors (as usual) and although the Treaties require qualified majority, they tried to reach a consensus which meant in practice unanimity.

Secondly, due to the Treaties, the consensus of the European Parliament is a binding legal requirement. This means that the new president would need a majority in the European Parliament, as a political condition.

Thirdly, the democratic climate is now different than it was years ago. The legitimacy of the elections gives an additional advantage to the Parliament: after fair and universal vote on the presidential candidates, it is simply democratically not feasible to bring out a new name from the cylinder who did not participate in the election campaign. A European Union composed of democracies should respect the fundamental values of Europe.

What does the primary law of the EU say on the election procedure?

As outlined by the European Voice, the essential steps of the election procedure of the President of the Commission reads as follows:

June – New MEPs arrive in Brussels and set up offices

2 June – Political groups convene, Brussels

26-27 June – Member States to put forward their candidate for Commission president at the June European Council

1-3 July – First European Parliament plenary session of the 2014-2019 term in Strasbourg. MEPs elect European Parliament President.

14-17 July – Second plenary session in Strasbourg. MEPs elect European Commission president

According to the Treaty on the European Union (TEU):

Article 14

1. The European Parliament shall, jointly with the Council, exercise legislative and budgetary functions. It shall exercise functions of political control and consultation as laid down in the Treaties. It shall elect the President of the Commission.

Article 17

7. 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. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.

Who can be the president of the Commission?

Only candidates fulfilling all the legal, political and democratic requirements have a chance to became the next president. New candidates from the cylinder might fulfill both the legal and political requirements but their nomination would be against the democratic principles and values. The three other Commission candidates (Ska Keller (the Greens), Guy Verhofstadt (the liberals) and Alexis Tsipras (the unified left)) have the democratic legitimacy as president candidate runners but they definitely lack the political support. Thus, as a conclusion, only 2 persons could be the President of the Commission in 2014: either the European People’s Party (EPP) candidate Jean-Claude Juncker or the S & D candidate Martin Schulz.

Why can not Juncker win that game?

As regards the political conditions, Juncker might have difficulties to secure a political support in the EP. As a matter of fact, the EPP won the elections having a relative majority and it is the biggest political group in the new European Parliament so the natural choice would be to nominate their candidate as president. However, I am afraid this relative majority alone is not enough to claim the right for the political leadership: S & D, ALDE the Greens and The unified left still have the absolute majority. There are countless examples in national elections, where the winner party was not able to secure an absolute majority in the Parliament. Let’s take the example of the Hungarian elections in 1998, where the list of the Socialist Party received the most votes but by making alliances the right-wing Fidesz could form a government. Or a most recent example is even the national elections in Luxembourg in 2013, where CSV, the party of Jean-Claude Juncker won but did not have the opportunity to form a government. (This could have played a role that Juncker accepted his nomination as potential EC president).

Concerning the European Council, Juncker may face difficulties here, too. British Prime Minister David Cameron criticised both candidates and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that he cannot adopt Juncker, as a president.

Therefore it is very unlikely that Juncker will have support in both institutions.

Why will be Schulz the next European Commission President?

Schulz has been continuously preparing for that position. Being the President of the European Parliament he already had to act as an honest broker and had the support of the EPP which elected him. This background might help him when he will try to secure political support.

As regards the European Council, he has better chances, too. The main supporter of Juncker, German chancellor Angela Merkel is at the top of a grand coalition in Germany together with the German SPD and she already said that she will represent a joint German position at the European Council.

It is important to note that the winning candidate should have the support of both the EPP and S & D, otherwise its legitimacy would be in danger.

A potential compromise: both Juncker and Schulz will be presidents.

As a conclusion, the most likely compromise would be to have Schulz, as the Commission President and Juncker as the President of the European Council. Serving as Prime Minister of Luxembourg for almost 20 years, he had a permanent seat at the European Council meetings since 1995. He knows very well the way of functioning of the negotiations of heads of state and government so it would be a natural choice to choose him, as the next chair of those meetings.

How will the 2014 EP elections shape the future of the EU?

The main lesson of that nomination procedure would be that no Commission president will be elected in the future without running on the European elections beforehand.

Source of the photos © European Voice

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