EU should get directly elected president in 'foreseeable future', Jean-Claude Juncker says

EU considers constitutional reforms as UK heads for Brexit door

Jon Stone
Brussels
Wednesday 14 February 2018 17:33
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‘Perhaps EU citizens aren’t that interested by the word ‘institutions’,’ says Juncker
‘Perhaps EU citizens aren’t that interested by the word ‘institutions’,’ says Juncker

The president of the European Commission should be directly elected by the voters of Europe, the position’s incumbent has said.

Jean-Claude Juncker said his “dream” was that the position would become elected in the “foreseeable future” and that it could be combined with the role of the European Council president so that the EU had a single, directly elected figurehead.

The proposal comes as the EU thinks about its future in light of the UK’s departure and brings forward constitutional reforms. The Commission on Wednesday also hinted that it would support new rules to withhold EU funding from countries that do not adhere to European values – such as Poland.

Speaking after a meeting of commissioners in Brussels Mr Juncker told reporters: “We had a very useful debate on the future direction that the European Union is going to take.

“Whenever we talk about the EU institutions there is the problem that perhaps the EU citizens aren’t that interested by the word ‘institutions’.

“But we do like dreamers, and my dream is that within the foreseeable future we will be able to ensure that we have a bicameral system in Europe – the Council of member states and the European Parliament.

“And that the Commission president, perhaps along with the Council president, will be elected by direct vote. I don’t think I will see this change happen in my mandate as president but that is the long-term perspective.”

Mr Juncker repeated his suggestion of merging the Council and Commission presidencies, which he first broached in his state of the union address last autumn. He argued that the split between the two jobs could cause problems in future were the two incumbents ever at odds.

“Let’s suppose for one second that the two presidents lived in an open conflict. The result would be disastrous,” he said.

“The president of the European Council would fix the agenda as he does now, and the president of the European Commission would refuse to deliver and make proposals according to the agenda fixed by the president of the European Council. That would be a nightmare and I don’t want this nightmare to happen.”

The Commission president said there should be television debates for the lead candidates for president, admitting that “no one watched” previous European Parliament elections events aired in most EU countries.

He also again backed plans for transnational lists of MEP candidates and said the idea would not go away despite the European Parliament having rejected it.

But he admitted that the major changes were unlikely to happen during his mandate as president, with European Parliament elections scheduled for next year.

Jean-Claude Juncker calls EU superstate claim by Boris Johnson 'total nonsense'

Mr Juncker also revealed that David Cameron had apologised to him for being unable to endorse his candidacy for European Commission president. The British Conservative Party is not a member of Mr Juncker’s European People’s Party.

Separately the European Commission appears to be moving to strengthen its enforcement tools against EU member states that breach its fundamental values. Brussels has for years been locked in a battle with Poland about the rule of law, amid claims that the country’s government is stuffing its judiciary full of government cronies.

Earlier this month the Commission said it wanted to strengthen procedures to enforce EU values on states before admitting Western Balkan countries such as Serbia and Albania – where there are concerns about their constitutions.

“It is the moment to consider how the link between EU funding and the respect for the EU’s fundamental values can be strengthened,” the Commission said in a statement.

Budget commissioner Günther Oettinger revealed on Wednesday that Brussels was in talks with member states about the possibility of reforming the EU budget so funds could be more easily withheld when a country breached the rules. The Commission is currently relying on Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union to enforce its rules, which can only suspend voting rights at the European Council – and only then by unanimous consent of the other countries.

The European Commission president is currently selected by the European Council nominating a candidate, taking into account the result of the most recent European Parliament elections, which is then confirmed or rejected by the European Parliament. There will probably be pushback to the idea of combining the Commission president with the Council president as some member states see the Council president as representing their interests against the Commission.

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