The pretenses of the European Council face the Treaty

The pretenses of the European Council face the Treaty

In a few days, 26 and 27 June, the European Council will meet to start the long process ending with the appointment of the president of the European Commission. Just after the European elections, a huge debate, implying both politicians and pundits, raised about three focal points.

First, the legitimacy of the indication of the so called Spitzenkandidat (special candidates) by the European Parliament (EP) is questioned. Second, corollary to the first point, the infringement of the principle of “one person, one vote,” because the ratio between voters and votes differs among the EU’s Member States (candidates from small countries need less votes to be elected as a MEP than those from big countries). As a consequence, the winner isn’t Juncker, whose party (the European People’s Party, or EPP) gained the relative majority of seats in the EP, but Martin Schulz, whose party received the relative majority of votes through the 28 EU Member States, is the winner and consequently should be the next president of the Commission.

The third focal point, linked to the economic crisis and the anti-austerity mood in Europe, the pretense of national leaders to put the Commission under tutelage by establishing guidelines to be accomplished by this institution.

The first two points have no solid foundation. The third is strikingly against the EU treaty.
Actually, the indication of the special candidates did not come from the EP, as claimed, but from the European parties. Were the General Assemblies of these parties (EEP, S&D and so on) to choose, by majority voting, the individuals Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz and others? The institution of the EP, as such, has not been involved. It is thus an incorrect argument of a fallacious interpretation of the Treaty by the EP heralded by the critics. More complex the “one person, one vote” issue. Sacred at national level, this principle is less defensible at the federal one; even less at the supra-national level.

In U.S. elections for the House of Representatives, each federate state has a different number of seats, from 53 in case of California to 1 for Montana, Delaware and others. The population (or voter) per House seat changes according to the states. Not as much as in the EU, not even always in the same direction (less populated states can have a population/seat ratio higher than the more populated ones), but sufficient enough not to be in line with the “one person, one vote” principle. Furthermore, in the presidential elections it may happen that the losing candidate receives a relative majority (plurality in U.S. terminology) of the popular vote, because of the electoral votes system. This was the case, for instance, in the George W. Bush against Al Gore in the 2000 elections. The above described situation stems from the fact that federate states tend to preserve state-wide electoral systems, resisting the adoption of federal-wide ones. The EU is a unique form of supra-national democracy.  Inevitably, member states have more resistance against adopting a union-wide electoral system.

Democracies, at federal (U.S.) or union (EU) level, work in a different way in respect to what happens at federate or member states levels. However, rule differentiation is vital in order to maintain the essence of federalism, preventing its transformation into a centralized super-state.  Concluding this second point: objecting the legitimacy of the EP on the ground of the “one person, one vote” system reveals a shallow knowledge of federalist and supra-nationalist systems implications.

Third: One of the most ancient principles of the European treaties is that “in carrying out its responsibilities, the Commission shall be completely independent” while the commissioners “shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government.” The pretension of imposing guidelines to the Commission not only infringes on the treaty, but would imply a structural transformation of the same process of integration, eliminating the supra-national dimension and reducing it to a pure intergovernmental one. However such a change would call for a modification of the treaty.

Pacta sunt servanda, according to a Latin saying. Although reluctant, the EU Council will have to accept the rules of the game; first, by taking into account the results of the European elections and the consequent representation of parties in the EP, when nominating the president of the Commission; second by respecting the independence of this institution.

*Angelo Santagostino is Jean Monnet chair ad personam, Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Ankara