The European Council cannot lead Europe: the European Commission can

Jean Monnet building which houses the European Commission

Federalist Letter to the European Constitutional Convention

Issue number 7, 10 June 2003

THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL CANNOT LEAD EUROPE: THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION CAN

One of the main issues to be decided in the European constitutional convention is the question of leadership. How is the European Union to be given the political leadership that it needs?

Europe’s weak economic performance and its silence on the world stage during the recent crisis demand the necessary institutional and political changes. The European Council cannot lead Europe: the European Commission can.

Consider how the European Council works. It meets for two days every three months. It meets behind closed doors. This is not the profile of an effective leadership body.

It has twenty-five members, all of equal status. What executive body can work in this manner? Note that the people who say that 25 is the right number for the European Council are the same ones who say that 25 is too many for the European Commission. They cannot be right both times.

Its membership changes frequently. A national head of government holds office for perhaps five years. We can therefore expect 5 changes of personnel in the European Council each year. This is not continuity.

And what of its accountability? If the European Council is to vote by majority, then no member state can rely on the position of its own head of government alone. The opinions and votes of the government leaders of other member states will also matter. So what happens when a government leader returns home having been outvoted? The people in that country have no access to the government leaders in the majority who supported that decision, for they are accountable only in their own member states. The European Council will be established as a body with power but no accountability. Is this the Europe we want?

One of the solutions proposed for these problems is that the European Council should choose itself a permanent president. This idea would cause more problems than it would solve.

The president of the European Commission is already elected for a five year period, providing continuity in the expression of the common European interest. Does the EU need a second president?

The president of the Commission is responsible for the EU’s legislative programme and budget. The council chair will have no powers over these issues, and will not even be able to make any commitments on foreign policy (on current proposals, these will be handled by the Foreign Minister and the member states). The EU does not need a second president who is less effective.

The president of the Commission is elected by the European Parliament: the Council chair would be appointed in secret. The EU does not need a second president who is less legitimate.

The president of the Commission is accountable to and can be removed from office by the European Parliament: the Council chair will be limited to four reports a year to the EP. The EU does not need a second president who is less accountable.

On all three counts – effectiveness, legitimacy, accountability – the proposed chair of the European Council scores lower marks than the president of the European Commission.

The conclusion is obvious. If the EU needs strategic vision and continuity in leadership – and it does – the president of the European Commission can do the job. The European Council cannot provide the leadership that Europe needs. The European Commission can.

This “Federalist Letter” is issued by the Union of European Federalists as part of the “Campaign for a European Federal Constitution”. For further information and support:
UEF – Chaussée de Wavre 214 d B-1050 Brussels, Tel: + 32-2-508.30.30 – Fax : +32-2-626.95.01, E-mail: uef.european.federalists@skynet.be – Website: www.federaleurope.org With the financial support, but not representing the opinions, of the European Commission.

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