Europe’s First General Election?



Repost from November, with updates: It’s funny how things happen in Europe. Rarely with big bangs, but instead incrementally, bit by bit, tiny step by cautious tiny step. Next year, another step may be about to occur, an action which has potentially huge consequences for the future of the EU. Yet nobody seems to be noticing.

The Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament has nominated Martin Schulz MEP, the German President of the European Parliament, as the “common candidate” of the group for the European Elections in May of next year. This decision was ratified in March at a S&D party congress. What does that all mean? It means that the S&D group, the second largest group in the parliament, has a designated candidate for President of the European Commission. The centre-right European People’s Party, the largest group, nominated Jean Claude Juncker their own candidate in Dublin in March, as did the liberal ALDE group (former Belgian PM Guy “Tintin” Verhofstadt). The Greens nominated two candidates, Ska Keller and Jose Bove.

Of course, the European media for the most part ignored this whole dimension, and focussed on the usual local bunfights that are European Elections. However, the real fun will happen after the elections, when the member states move to nominate a new European Commission. What happens when they encounter a bolshy parliament which has, in its own mind, fought a European wide general election style campaign and has winners and losers, and designated candidates for the highest office in the EU?

But no one has heard of these people, the member states will shout, and they’ll be right. Ah, but we have, and we’ve just all been elected in a free and fair election, the parliament will reply, and they will, curiously, be right too.

But surely, the media across Europe will ask, surely the parliament is just a talking shop that can be ignored by the member states? But that’s just the point. Both the national media and indeed the national governments seem to have not quite grasped how much power they have given the European Parliament in every EU treaty, to the extent that the EP can actually block the member states’ nominee for president.

So what happens then? Well, if the member states, through the European Council, do accept the nominee of parliament, that changes everything, because once parliament gets to pick the Commission President once it will hold onto that power for ever more. That means that parliament gets to choose the Commission President into the future, and that means that we now would have an executive both chosen and dismissible  by the parliament, albeit held in check by the Council acting as a powerful senate.

And that, my friends, means that Europe has now become a parliamentary democracy with a de facto prime minister answerable not to the member states but parliament. After all, the council can’t dismiss an incumbent President of the Commission, only the parliament can. And if that president is Martin Schulz, the outgoing President of the European Parliament and a man with more ties to the parliament than the national capitals…

Yet say this to the national media, and they look blankly at you.

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