The primaries are starting for the next European elections. Most, if not all, of the main European party groups intend to nominate their candidates for president of the European Commission, in advance of the elections next May.
It has long been a proposal of the federalists that the European elections and choice of Commission president should be linked. The Commission term of office was extended from 4 years to 5 and moved to coincide with the EP election timetable in 1994 in order to make this possible, and Article 9(D)(7) of the Lisbon treaty makes it even clearer:
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 the newly-elected MEPs have to choose the winning candidate, it is not surprising that they are expected to know before the election for whom they would like to vote.
This amounts to a notable step towards parliamentary democracy in Europe, potentially giving the president of the Commission the same kind of mandate as the prime minister of a member state. At a time when there are some big decisions to be taken at European level – how to end austerity, how to fight climate change, how to relate to the Arab world – involving the voters of Europe in taking them is an important thing to do.