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The next European Parliament's president is already chosen ... one year before the elections!
by Newropeans-Magazine
2008-05-01 10:12:12
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Franck Biancheri's editorial last week was entitled: "Dans un an, il y aura des élections européennes et tous les partis politiques nationaux s'en foutent" (In one year, there will be European elections and the national political parties never mind). Today Daniela Schwarzer tells us how effectively not only the national political parties but also the European institutions don't mind: the European Parliament has already designate who will be its next president in 2009 after the elections, even before the vote of European citizens!

The German daily paper Handelsblatt(1) reported that the leading figures in the European Parliamentary groups have seemingly agreed over the question, who will be the next President of the European Parliament as of autumn 2009: the former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Busek.

In contrast to some of his compatriots, the Conservative Busek has proven a politician with some reasonable views on Europe. While being Prime Minister from 1997 to 2001, he led his country on its EU-accession course, standing up against considerable internal anti-EU opposition. After the recent reign of the populist euro-sceptic Kaczynski twins, Poland today is becoming a more constructive partner under the Premiership of Donald Tusk. So, the probable nomination of Busek will be celebrated as part of Poland’s “return to the heart of Europe”.

This as such is a welcome evolution (especially as other large countries’ leaderships such as Italy’s Berlusconi and the UK’s Brown are on precisely the opposite course). However, for the nomination of the European Parliament’s President, this is the wrong motive, and the wrong message to the European citizens at the wrong time.

It would take a large effort of communication and motivation to get Europe’s citizens to vote in the European Parliament’s elections in June 2009 (read this piece (in French) by Franck Biancheri for the reasons: http://www.newropeans-magazine.org/content/view/7918/110/ (2). The message, that the new President of the Parliament has de facto been nominated even before the citizens are casting their vote can only be interpreted as cynicism. Just like the debate that is now being launched over the future President of the European Commission. Or the one over the first EU-President. Or the one over the future foreign minister (formally tagged High Representative).

In the next weeks, even though we today do not even know whether the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified, we will read lots of news about the most recent “top candidates” for the new “top jobs” in the EU that – in case of the new EU Treaty does enter into force – are said to improve the functioning of the EU. Remember: these jobs and the people filling them are supposed to bring the EU more efficiency, more readability, more coherence, more internal and external visibility.

What they will probably not bring to it more legitimacy and political leadership, which are the most fundamental things the EU needs to fulfil all the other promises (efficiency, readability, coherence, visibility).

Legitimacy, transparency and democracy (prerequisites for sane democratic leadership) are no decisive elements in the current negotiation game over who will get what in terms of EU offices (just read the most recent article on the EU observer on Blair’s attempts to get some other kind of goodies, if he can’t become EU President (EUobserver (3). It is essentially a secret power struggle between national governments and parties over who gets what – without any relation what so ever to the European elections 2009.

This is a real democratic mess: almost posts will be attributed (in the largest possible secrecy) to certain persons representing certain parties and countries/regions in the EU. The fact that we now have political top jobs to fill in Europe (which is as such a good thing), but that the EU member governments stick to an archaic functioning that is a heritage of the last century, when the EU was a closed shop of an (initially) small number of member states.

Thereby, the national governments may run into trouble. Because one person (ironically the President of the European Commission, and seemingly not the Parliament’s President, but) can politically only be chosen once the new Parliament meets in autumn 2009. So, at least in this post, there might be some reflection of the rapport de force in the European Parliament after the citizens’ votes (if the Parliament uses its political weight as it did in the past to influence the composition of the European Commission).

The problem can then be the following: if the Commission President becomes, lets say, a Socialist, this of course will have repercussions on the other posts, which will have to satisfy Conservatives, possibly also a small job for the liberals or greens. According to the power game the governments and parties are currently playing, in order to satisfy the most powerful political forces, the EU-President or the High Representative (who is also Deputy President of the Commission) would have to come from other political groups (and a different region to satisfy East and West, North and South). But there is a problem of timing: The European Council has decided that – if ratified – the Lisbon Treaty should enter into force in early 2009 – before the European elections. The future French EU Presidency has ambitions – under its reign – to get the sensitive questions over who becomes High Representative and who becomes EU President settled in the second half of 2008. So practically, the governments will try to nominate the future EU President and the High Representative before knowing the composition of the EP and before knowing who will be Commission President.

The question who will be parachuted into which office will hence to a large degree not be related to the outcome of the European elections, despite all talk over the democratic merits of the Reform Treaty. Indeed, the European Parliament will see its powers increased by the new Treaty – but the preliminary nomination of the next Parliament’s President and the struggle over the Commission President and the High Representative are the best ingredients to make the European citizens’ realise: a lot is being done to ensure that their vote does not matter.

Daniela Schwarzer
Berlin - Germany

* Daniela Schwarzer is General Secretary for Political Programme Coordination and Socio-Economic Issues of Newropeans - Co-editor of Eurozone Watch

1) Neuer Präsident des Europäischen Parlaments steht fest (Handelsblatt 21/04/2008)

2) Dans un an, il y aura des élections européennes et tous les partis politiques nationaux s'en foutent - Franck Biancheri (NM 17/04/2008)

3) Secret deal between EU-3 blocks Blair as EU president (EUobserver 21/04/2008)

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