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This brief was prepared by Paul Goldschmidt and is available in category
Brexit and the City
05 November 2013

Heather Grabbe: How not to fix the European Union's democratic deficit

A partisan president would weaken institutions – a captain can't be a referee, writes Grabbe for the FT.

The EU urgently needs measures to improve its democratic legitimacy. The proposal touted in Brussels as the solution to the democratic deficit is to turn the European elections into a way to select the president of the European Commission, with the four party families that dominate the European parliament putting forward their choices as the face of their 2014 campaigns. But that could make the problems worse rather than better.

Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty says that the outcome of the elections has to be taken into account in the European Council’s selection of a new president, which must then be endorsed by a majority of MEPs. This article need not be interpreted in a way that limits the search for the best person to run the Commission to the candidates of the main parties. Indeed, the priority should be to find someone who can restore trust in the institution, not one who will play party politics. A strong, independent, non-partisan Commission is needed in this crisis.

Indeed, a partisan choice of president would make it harder for the Commission to referee the new rules on fiscal discipline. It would be a weaker guardian of the treaties, too; a captain of one of the teams cannot be a fair referee.

The EU’s institutional balance would also be upset. A president who felt beholden to the largest group in parliament would be less able to represent the broad interest. If the president becomes a creature of the parliament, listening more to MEPs than Member States, governments will sideline the Commission and do deals among themselves.

Furthermore, the proposal would not offer voters a meaningful choice because the Commission does not decide big issues such as economic governance. The president is also not a prime minister who chooses his or her own ministers; rather, she has to take one nominated by each Member State, so the overall political complexion of the College of Commissioners would still reflect national governments rather than the European election results.

Full article (FT subscription required)

© Financial Times

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