The European Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States; Article 6(1) TEU. These principles are supposed to guide the Union’s internal as well as its external action.
Let us take a look at democracy, when the Treaty of Lisbon is about to create two important posts: the President of the European Council and the High Representative/Vice-President. How are the holders of these public offices going to reflect the choices of the citizens of the European Union?
First, we take a look at the procedural basics under the amended Treaty on European Union (TEU).
Here is what the Lisbon Treaty says about the President (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306). According to Article 9b(5) TEU: The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once.
Then, we recall what the Reform Treaty has to say about the High Representative. Article 9e(1) TEU states: The European Council, acting by a qualified majority, with the agreement of the President of the Commission, shall appoint the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The European Council may end his term of office by the same procedure.
Finally, we are reminded that the High Representative is also going to be one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Commission. Pursuant to Article 9d(7) TEU, third subparagraph, the President, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the other members of the Commission shall be subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament. On the basis of this consent the Commission shall be appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority.
If the essence of representative democracy is the power of the people to elect and to change their leaders, the Treaty of Lisbon does not reach that standard.
So much for those who think that there is no further need for institutional EU reform.
In the meantime, there are different shades of grey. Democratic practice can evolve, even without a written Constitution.
The Lisbon Treaty already admits that the election results should influence the choice of Commission President, and it gives the European Parliament a say. Article 9d(7) TEU states: 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.
The President of the European Council and the High Representative/Vice-President are as important to the citizens of the Union as the President of the Commission.
Instead of following in the footsteps of Vatican Conclaves, which leave the public waiting for white smoke after the fact, the European Council could, within the established rules, do something real to re-engage at least some of the citizens it undeniably has alienated, both during the treaty negotiations and after the signing of the Reform Treaty.
Let there be open nominations as well as public hearings and campaigns for these offices. This would lead to a real European debate on common issues.
Peter Sain ley Berry said, quite correctly: For Europe’s President to emerge from some closed European Council meeting without any prior attempt to test the democratic will and without any requirement for the candidates to lay their credentials before the European public will be wrong, short-sighted, bad government and a disgrace.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who will preside over the European Council later this year, has understood the power of political initiative. Some of his ideas seem half-baked, some are outright disastrous and part of them can be brilliant, but he is constantly on the move.
This week, Sarkozy more or less launched Tony Blair as a candidate for the office of President of the European Council. Initial reactions, especially in Great Britain, seemed to come from ingrained sympathies or antipathies concerning Blair as a person.
Few paused to think about the wider picture.
With one candidate (almost) in the open, could Sarkozy have stumbled on a winning formula, beyond the choice of persons. It would not take much to make the choice of leaders a European public affair.
Open nominations, televised debates and public discussion could bring Europe a step closer to a democracy worthy of the schoolmaster for the rest of the world.
Peter Sain ley Berry: Let EU citizens choose their president too; EUobserver 11.01.2008;