The votes have been counted and the results are in, but we are still none the wiser as to who will be the next president of the European Commission.
It’s a mess. We were told that this European election would be different. It is starting to feel all too familiar.
A week after the election, the solution, as with so much in the European Union, looks likely to be the result of a messy compromise that will leave nobody really satisfied. How have we ended up in a situation in which European leaders are seriously considering ignoring an admittedly flimsy democratic mandate?
Locked in a power struggle
The problem is the Lisbon Treaty. What it says, and what it’s been used for. The text says that the Council must nominate a candidate taking into consideration the European Parliament election results. This nominee must then be voted through the parliament.
Ahead of the recent elections, for the first time, the political party blocs nominated a preferred candidate for the post of EU Council President should their bloc win the majority of votes.
But there are two problems with this: Firstly, the Council at no point said it would follow the “Spitzenkandidaten” system. Secondly, no single bloc won a majority.
So after all the rhetoric, multiple televised debates and cross-continental campaigns we’ve ended up…in a backroom in Brussels trying to thrash out a deal.
We are locked in a power struggle. The European Parliament is insisting that its democratic birth pains be recognized, while the European Council, with its host of democratically elected leaders, argues that it has more of a claim than the parliament to make a decision as the voice of the people.
Europe needs a kick up the bum
The European project has just been through a big existential crisis. Its pet project, the euro, nearly brought the whole institution down. A community or union supposed to bring the continent together in cooperation witnessed member states enforcing budgets, drastic spending cuts, and even heads of government (see Monti in Italy) on each other. None of which was in the Schuman Declaration.
Europe needs a kick up the bum. A generation after the Second World War, Europe, and Europeans, need a new vision for the EU. A reason to grit their teeth and bear the pain inflicted over the past years.
But it’s not just a problem of how to achieve this goal; it’s also a problem of who can do so.
Jean-Claude Juncker is an old white man from one of the original six, a self-confessed European federalist and former president of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers.
Juncker is not the man
They say cometh the hour, cometh the man. Juncker, for all his qualities, experience and skills as a politician, doesn’t feel like the man for this hour. So the Commission doesn’t like the candidate and they don’t like how he got there.
Herein lies the dilemma for the Commission as they sit in their bunkers this week. If they follow the democratic principles they proclaim to hold dear, it will probably be better for the EU in the long run. In doing so, they will probably appoint someone who may not be good for Europe in the medium term.
Unfortunately, being politicians, their eyes are unmovingly focused on the short term.