The claim that the European Union is run by unelected bureaucrats always riles pro-Europeans, in part because they know it to be true, writes Justin Stares.
So-called European ‘federalists’ say it is simply incorrect to suggest the European Commission president and his team are unelected, and therefore unrepresentative, because they must receive the backing of the European Parliament before taking office.
In recent weeks federalists have misleadingly talked about the future “election” of the president of the Commission. Belgium’s Herman Van Rompuy, chairman of the European Council, did just that when inviting EU leaders to dinner. “We will talk about the process leading to the European Council proposing a candidate for the future Presidency of the Commission to the European Parliament for election,” he wrote in his invitation.
British Liberal Andrew Duff, a hardcore federalist who has just lost his seat in the European Parliament, took to Twitter earlier this month with the same message. “How ‘unelected’ does a man have to be to become EU Commission head?” he wrote. “Actually, a majority of 28 heads of government & 751 MEPs”.
Not only are these gentlemen wrong, they are doing a disservice to the cause they seek to promote.
First, elections – in the free world at least – involve multiple candidates. The European Parliament, on the other hand, can either approve or reject the Commission president and his team. Can Euro MPs elect the candidate they consider most appropriate? They most certainly cannot. They are given a choice – yes or no. At best, they can say no and force EU member states to think again.
Neither can we define the approval process within the European Council as an election. It is no secret that national governments agree on a candidate after horse-trading, and then, possibly, put this candidate to a vote. As with the majority of decisions taken in Brussels, approval is more likely to be arrived at by consensus, with no formal vote necessary. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a list of candidates, and an open, transparent – that means webstreamed – debate on their merits within the Council? And then a live, webstreamed vote? Now that would be a real boost for European democracy.
Rather than claim EU leaders are elected and therefore accountable, pro-Europeans should admit they are not, and call for change. To suggest that the EU’s top positions should actually be decided by the people themselves – direct democracy – is no doubt going too far. The electorate might choose a populist! We can’t have that, can we?
But to organise real, transparent elections in Brussels would only take a tweak or two to the current system – such as the installation of a few web cameras.
As it stands, the so-called “elections” that are due to take place in Brussels this year are a sham. Without wishing to exaggerate, they are more akin to the approval processes that take place in dictatorships: vote for me, or for no-one (or else).
Beyond the bluster, pro-Europeans already know all this and have in the past called themselves for reform of the appointment system. The more recent claims that EU leaders are “elected” and therefore that the system works are probably the wet dreams of spin doctors brought in with the increasingly desperate goal of injecting credibility into the Brussels bubble.
The spin won’t work; it’s much too late for that.
Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinStares