Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Heavyweight president for the European Council?

People love to talk about people, and read about them, too. So human interest stories sell newspapers, and circulation numbers sell advertising space, and the economy keeps humming, which is all very well.

But some matters deserve more thoughtful discussion and decision making than that. Let us take the coming president of the Commission, the president of the European Council and the high representative cum vice-president as a case in point.

Two aspects require special attention if Europe wants to bridge the current chasm between leaders dealing among themselves and citizens awarded the role of mere spectators:

1) EU as the world’s schoolmaster in democracy needs to start dismantling its own variety of ‘managed democracy’ in favour of real, representative democracy. A long term commitment to democratic reform, covering the whole of EU activities, is needed from the European leaders.

2) Whenever the existing treaties (including the Lisbon Treaty undergoing ratification) allow, these possibilities should be used consistently to improve EU level democracy, in the vein of the ‘Who do I call?’ initiative.


Election procedures

Returning to the one old, the one new and the third spiced up top job, it would, in my view, be more important to discuss the election procedures before speculating about the persons.

The all too probable worst case scenario is that an electoral college of 27 heads of state or government deal behind closed doors and that the citizens are only informed about the result, after the fact.

(Even the conclave of cardinals is larger, though the procedures look pretty equal at the present stage of evolution. On the other hand, the Catholic Church makes no claims to democratic accountability.)

The European Council has the powers, if the will is there, to arrange open nominations, public debate and transparent decision making for the top jobs.

Combining the posts of Commission and European Council president would enhance the democratic legitimacy of the new office holder.

‘Objective’ criteria

The second issue is to look at the qualifications needed. Different viewpoints are not only necessary, they are highly desirable.

My own heavily weighted main criteria would look at the candidate’s career and his/her country’s track record with the following in mind:

* Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and conduct during the reform process since Maastricht

* The Eurozone

* The Schengen area

* The Charter of Fundamental Rights

* Commitment to develop a real CFSP and CSDP based on dual EU and NATO membership

* Commitment to a future democratic European Union

Personal qualifications

Then come the personal qualities of the candidates, when they have been publicly fielded and we get to know who they are and what they stand for.


The coming office holders are going to have clout only if the European Union gets its act together. One way to give the EU’s top representatives backing when dealing with world leaders is to give them the moral authority democratic legitimacy bestows on holders of political office. Surely, that is more important then the postal country code.

Therefore, both short term and long term improvements are called for.

Ralf Grahn