A president for Europe

Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso

A campaign has been launched to merge the post of president of the European Commission with the new post of president of the European Council created under the Lisbon treaty. The argument is that the Commission president is more legitimate but the European Council president is more powerful. Power can be made legitimate by merging the posts. Read about it here. I write about it on this blog because I don’t agree with it.

(The title of the campaign, Who do I call?, is also odd. Henry Kissinger, when he posed his famous question, was US secretary of state, and the EU will have a single voice – the High Representative, who both represent the Council and be a member of the Commission – once the Lisbon treaty comes into force.)

Reasons why the idea is not a good one. First, the EU is based on the rule of law. There is a strong argument that such a merger is explicitly ruled out in the Lisbon treaty. Article 9b(2) in the treaty defines the membership of the European Council, listing the two presidents of the European Council and European Commission separately. Furthermore, it is specified that members of the Commission “may not engage in any other occupation, whether gainful or not”. That probably kills the idea at the outset.

Secondly, even if the idea is not ruled out by the new treaty, it is certainly not ruled in by it. The idea that the two roles should be filled by the same person was suggested during the European Convention but did not receive general support at that time, and no-one can really say now that this is what the treaty intends. For example, the two posts are appointed differently, they may be dismissed differently, and they even serve different terms of office. (The Commission president has a 5 year renewable term, the European Council president has a 2 1/2 year term, renewable once.) If merger was intended, these points would all be the same.

Let us imagine that, despite these two points, a legal and diplomatic manoeuvre enables the two posts to be merged. Is that how the leadership of the European Union should be settled? By a legal and diplomatic manoeuvre? No, it should be settled in the ballot box. The thought that things can be fixed in Brussels is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

This needs to be said because there is every possibility that the merger of the two posts will have the opposite outcome to that intended. Rather than bestowing on the European Council the legitimacy of the Commission, it might well infect the Commission with the European Council’s distance from the citizen. That would make things worse, not better.

A much better way to make the exercise of political power within the EU more legitimate is to strengthen the connection between the European elections and the choice of president of the Commission. The political parties should nominate candidates in advance of the elections in June 2009. Read more about that here http://www.who-is-your-candidate.eu/

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We wrote about this during the Convention in papers you can read here:

http://www.federalunion.org.uk/europe/fedletter/fl_7.shtml

http://www.federalunion.org.uk/europe/accountablepresident.shtml

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