New face picked by the same old ones: Elections, not horse trading, are what the European Commission needs, argues Vernon Bogdanor

Share
Related Topics
JACQUES SANTER, president-elect of the European Commission, is, like the vetoed candidate, Jean-Luc Dehaene, a Christian Democrat, and, as such, a member of the European People's Party (EPP), the transnational Christian Democrat grouping in the European Parliament.

In March 1989, he declared that the EPP presented itself 'as a viable partner for all the political forces in the European Parliament which want to take on the responsibility of continuing the development of the European Community into a political union which responds to the future challenges of internal and external policies. Via its central position, the EPP is the guarantor of the realisation of the internal market and of its social dimension.'

There can be little doubt that Mr Santer is as strong a believer in European unity - or, in John Major's jargon, a 'federalist' - as Mr Dehaene. That is hardly surprising. For, while one member state can veto the choice of the other 11, it cannot be expected that the 11 will then select a replacement whose outlook is that of the solitary dissenter. Thus, Mr Major's 'triumph' at Corfu is likely to prove as insubstantial as his 'triumph' at Maastricht, both having been gained at the cost of the country's real interest, which requires Britain to take a constructive, rather than a negative, view of Europe's future.

Mr Major, however, hopes that Mr Santer will prove a weak leader of the commission, so as to assist in the Government's aim of being a drag on the wheel of European union. Yet even that hope may not be fulfilled. For Mr Santer is likely to enjoy more credibility with the heads of government of the member states than Mr Dehaene, a fixer from the Belgian equivalent of Tammany Hall, would have done.

Nevertheless, the method by which Mr Santer has been selected is bound to weaken his authority. Under presidents such as Roy Jenkins and Jacques Delors, the commission has come to be far more than a mere secretariat to the Council of Ministers, the role to which Gaullists and Thatcherites hoped to confine it. Instead, it has led the way in the construction of Europe, sharing power with the Council of Ministers under the system of checks and balances that constitutes the government of the European Union.

Yet the president of the commission is selected by an unsavoury method of national horse-trading and elite manoeuvring, dominated, as recent weeks have shown, by the leaders of France and Germany. The people of Europe, whom the commission is intended to serve, find themselves entirely excluded from this process. The commission and its president lack democratic legitimacy, and so are ill-equipped to guide the process of European union.

How might the commission acquire such legitimacy? One possibility would be for Europe's voters to elect directly either the commission as a whole, or its president. That, however, would require an amendment to the Treaty on European Union, which would probably not be ratified in some, at least, of the member states; while the process of ratification would reawaken the forces of national chauvinism in just the same way that the ratification of Maastricht did.

There is, however, an alternative method by which the people of Europe can choose their representative on the commission. Article 158 of the Treaty on European Union gives the European Parliament the right to approve or reject the president and the other members of the commission, following nomination by the governments of the member states. Why should not the European Parliament declare that it will not in future allow any commission to be formed that the majority in the Parliament has not itself proposed? In this way, the formation of the commission would come to depend upon which transnational parties or bloc enjoyed a majority in the European Parliament.

Such a declaration, apart from giving the commission legitimacy, could radically alter the function of elections to the European Parliament. For these elections would then have the purpose of selecting the commission, the executive of the Union. The commission might then comprise members of one political colour, and it would be in a stronger position to offer the political leadership, whether of left or right, that Europe so badly needs.

Elections to the European Parliament would thus come to focus popular attention on European issues. They would become important and exciting, which currently they are not, and this should prove a sure remedy for the disease of apathy and falling turn-out.

For the European Parliament to select the commission would be to recognise that Europe can be built only through the participation of its people, not through the benign despotism of its leaders. The construction of Europe requires the creation of a European consciousness. That consciousness can only be created if Europe's electors, rather than its elites, are given the power to decide who is to guide the European project.

The author is Reader in Government, Oxford University, and a Fellow of Brasenose College.

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager, Spanish, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

Account Manager, Spanish, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

Account Manager, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

Electrical Technician

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Urgent requirement for Electrical Techni...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Richard Dawkins  

Richard Dawkins is wrong to suggest that there can be varying degrees of severity involved in rape

Sian Norris
 

Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on