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A New Commission for a New Era

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To increase true democracy in the European Union, there is a need of promoting ‘different in nature’ EU politics, more based on cross-national ideological majorities (or alliances) and less on national interests bargaining. The European Commission seems to be well-fitted for that purpose and therefore should be at the core of our reflection for the future.

In a new era of closer Economic and Political Union, we need a stronger and more democratic Commission. We need greater parliamentarization/politicization of the European Commission as the key to a more dynamic transnational political space and closer linkage with citizens through the elections to the European Parliament.

Some steps forward in that direction have recently been advanced. They are limited innovations but one should not underestimate them. The two most relevant ones are the indirect election of the Commission President in the 2014 European Elections and the new organisation of the recently appointed Commission.

The new formula introduced by the Lisbon Treaty for the appointment of the President of the Commission, together with the agreement of pan-European political parties to designate their candidates, has opened a door for more democratization of the European Commission. It is in itself a qualitative leap with huge potential to generate a new dynamism and a very significant reinforcement of elections to the European Parliament and the European political space. Indeed, it has already created new positive dynamics for the 2014 elections and the new Juncker Commission and this effect will presumably be stronger for future elections.

The restructuring of the Juncker Commission with 7 Vice-Presidencies (one clear First VicePresident) entrusted with the main priorities of its action plan, is not ideal, but it could solve or at least alleviate many of the drawbacks of the current model of 28 members of the Commission, one by Member State. It is an opportunity for more political, strong, coherent and coordinated action of the European Commission. It can work as a first pilot experience and a means to develop a second-best option within the limits of the current framework.

However, although important, these innovations are limited. A Commission of 28 members, one by Member State, is too large and too ‘nationalised’. Each Commissioner continues to have one vote and to have, at least formally, equal status regardless of whether he is entrusted with a Vice-presidency or not. Moreover, the Commission keeps on meeting as a College of 28 and deciding by majority. And above all, the Commission continues to represent the majority held at the Council and not the new majority of the European elections.

Therefore, it is submitted that these innovations are not sufficient for a true democratization and the needed reinforcement of the European Commission and thus further measures should be adopted in the medium-long term. The new proposed scenario comprises an intense parliamentarization of the Commission, the creation of pan-European lists for the European >elections and possibly the merger of the Presidency of the European Commission and the European Council.

A model of intense parliamentarization/politicization consists not only in the Commission President being elected by indirect universal suffrage in the European elections, but also that the whole Commission were representative of the new majority at the European Parliament that has supported the Commission president. As very likely there would not be a single political party having the sufficient majority at the European parliament, a coalition would have to be formed to give support to the appointment of the President, the whole Commission and its program, and even sometimes to participate in the Commission.

The creation of pan-European lists implies that 50-70% of the European Parliament would be elected from national constituencies, for which we should create one or more areas for each Member State, whereas the other 30-50 % would be elected following a proportional system with one constituency at the European level. This change aims at reducing the 'nationalization' of the European electoral debate. It is a means to encourage to talk about Europe, to debate on the European project and its policies, and to vote based on European issues.

The election by indirect universal suffrage of the Commission President has created a new political context that would be further modified if the proposals of intense parliamentarization and the creation of pan-European lists are accepted. All this forces us to reframe the debate about the appropriateness of a dual presidency model and evaluate an alternative model of a single presidency according to which the Commission President would also preside over the meetings of the European Council.

These proposed changes point out at a scenario of greater integration, closer to a federal model. Clearly, this scenario would require a reform of the Treaties and a political will that is not easy to attain. Without this new scenario, it is unlikely that citizens can feel that they have a real say in the government of Europe and that therefore they get more involved in future European elections. In spite of its difficulties and possible drawbacks, in a new era of closer Economic and Political Union, further reinforcement and intense parliamentarization of the European Commission is crucial to advance in the development of a European political space and a supranational democracy in Europe.

Blog More Europe. 19 January 2015.

Post by Prof. Jerónimo Maillo, Head of the Public Law Department and Senior Researcher at the Institute for European Studies, CEU San Pablo University, Madrid


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