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

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

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

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat