Leading Article: Europe must connect with the people

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The Independent Culture
THE EUROPEAN Union is heading for trouble. The single currency starts in eight weeks, and new countries are set to join in a few years' time. Yet the basic structure of its central bureaucracy is unchanged since it was set up as a community of six nations in 1957. So we say, as an unashamedly pro-European newspaper, that the EU will retain its legitimacy among the peoples of Europe only if it derives more direct democratic authority from them.

That is why, while welcoming the idea that Chris Patten should replace Sir Leon Brittan as one of Britain's two European Commissioners next year, we argue that the system of appointment should be changed. We have an interest to declare (Mr Patten is a director of Independent Newspapers), but the right reason for choosing the former Governor of Hong Kong is that he is a heavyweight with ministerial experience. The wrong reason is that he is a pro-European Conservative who would make life difficult for William Hague.

Prime-ministerial patronage, moderated by a woolly bipartisan convention, is no way to appoint the bureaucrats who run the EU. The President of the Commission is a post that should certainly be elected, as Jacques Delors has proposed, in an EU-wide poll, at the same time as the elections for the European Parliament.

Why should countries not elect their commissioners too? Only when the causes of Europe are disputed in the coarse language of democracy, when people who passionately want the job start calling each other names, are the voters going to feel that the EU matters, and even that the Brussels machine belongs to them.

Next year's European Parliament elections are not enough to make us feel part of the common political culture which we need to face the challenges ahead.