In a harsh Eurosceptic mind-set, it is a widely-accepted ‘fact’ that the EU is undemocratic, particularly considering the European Commission, seen as a group of unelected Eurocrats. This perception of an undemocratic union has also been pointed out, although in a more constructive manner by one of the most prominent federalists, Guy Verhofstadt, who proposed that the Commission President should be elected by the People.
For the sake of truth, since it seems we are living in a ‘Fake News’ era, let us do a bit of fact checking. The Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that when the Commission President is chosen by the EU, the European parliamentary election results need to be taken into consideration. The candidate is first nominated by the elected heads of states in the European Council and is then appointed by the elected deputies of the European Parliament. This makes the appointment of the President similar to that of the US elections since it is in a way an electoral college who chooses the President. Making the appointment to a certain extent democratic, however, there is that democratic deficit present in the system.
Nevertheless, it is high time that the people are given the power to choose who sets the agenda for the European Executive, and not the so-called Euro-Elites if only for the following three reasons:
Firstly, the Union’s reputation has been tarnished by the repetitive disasters since 2008. Many people who it sought to protect from war in the continent, now regard its institutions as a thing of the past which needs to be dismantled. This unpopularity among its citizens has given a lot of energy to the Eurosceptic movement. Moreover, this provides more publicity to the idea that the EU is undemocratic thus finding the excuse to get rid of the EU.
Secondly, ever since the Trump Administration has taken an antagonistic attitude towards the EU this has provided a fresh impetus for the federal movement. As the Big 4 seek to form a Multi-Speed Europe and create an organised EU army in response to Russia’s aggression and the possible scenario of Trumpian America abandoning the EU in favour of Russia and the Nation-State.
With the people being given the right to choose the Commission President, Eurosceptics would have to find another excuse to why the EU is a bad idea given the fact the adherents of the EU would have a legitimate argument to the sceptics’ claims. Given the fact that the Union will be much more federalist in structure which means that member states will continue to pool sovereignty. It would not be a bad idea if you include the people in the discussion on what the future of Europe should look like. At least once every five years.
That brings me to my third point about the connection between the union and the people. For too long the Union has been a sort of playground for European diplomats. It never really had that popular push except when a potential member voted in a referendum to join. A very different reality to the classical federalists like Altiero Spinelli. This problem has been touched upon by the Eurosceptics, in a negative manner. However, Joseph Muscat and MEP Marlene Mizzi have emphasised that this is a real problem and must be fixed if the Union is to continue.
A presidential election would compel the candidates to campaign all around Europe, as they would have to show their accountability not to parliament, but directly to the people who choose them. This would therefore involve the people in the debate. Moreover, a presidential election may not only encourage more people to vote, but it would provide the European Union the publicity it needs by the media for the people to become more aware about what the union is about and what it has strived for.
Furthermore, a Presidential election during the parliamentary elections would also bring about an end to the nationalist orentated rhetoric in the campaigns and give rise to a more European debate since a position of great influence would be directly determined in what box the people choose to mark in the ballot paper. Which may continue to give rise to a more European identity.
There is no denying that the people of Europe are craving for change. That is why 2019 should be the first time that Europeans are given the chance to determine a position of great influence their way. If the EU wishes to be the political revolution it was envisaged to be in the 1950s, a more democratic election is the way forward.
Thomas Cassar Ruggier