Wed May 27th, 2009 at 04:42:44 AM EST
Would the European Parliament have the weight of national parliaments, the outcome of next month's elections would determine the head and composition of he next Commission. But, by the first signs, it seemed that the past practice will continue: the national governments in the European Council (wirth the Franco-German axis taking the lead) haggle out who the Commission President should be -- and at what price in terms of other positions --, and the EP gets to give a multipartisan stamp of approval.
In the present haggling, it seems a Barroso II Commission seems the assured outcome. In particular, it seemed that the Socialists, who as PES have the second biggest faction in the EP, will cede the post to the conservatives. Even before the election results, and without anything of equal worth in return -- there has been talk about either the President of the EP post for PES faction leader Martin Schulz, or, gasp, a top post for the intolerable former British PM Tony Bliar.
However, two new attacks on the incumbent's candidacy, from no less officials than PES leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Martin Schulz himself, (posted by Fran in today's Salon) indicate that the EP Socialists -- and EP democracy -- are not a completely lost case. As you'll see below the fold, Schulz in particular talks rather openly about the power situation.
Germany's Martin Schulz on the EU's Democratic Deficit: 'Europe Has Become an Over-Intellectualized Affair for Specialists' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
SPIEGEL: Let's discuss the power of this chamber. Who would become president of the European Commission if your Social Democrats won the election?
Schulz: I admit that you are addressing a democratic deficit. The election outcome ought to determine the makeup of the Commission, but in actual fact, the heads of state and government determine who the Commission president will be. We should start by resisting the efforts to approve a second term for current Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
So, what can they do about Barroso, what not, and why?
SPIEGEL: So your goal is to get rid of Barroso?
Schulz: Unfortunately, at this point we can only try to obstruct Barroso, but we cannot elect our own candidate. For this reason, we should at least dictate political criteria by which we would judge the next president. Together with the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), we have compiled a set of requirements for strengthening employee rights in Europe.
SPIEGEL: Wait a minute. Are you saying that it's possible for a majority of citizens to vote for social democrats on June 4-7, and yet a conservative will become president of the commission?
Schulz: Yes, in theory. Practically speaking, it would be difficult, of course. The heads of state and government will have to think very carefully about whom they propose, if the Party of European Socialists form the strongest parliamentary group. That's why neither (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel nor (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy has commented officially on Barroso to date.
SPIEGEL: Do the two of them fear the power of the European Parliament?
Schulz: Yes, because their power is also at stake. Until now, the heads of state and government have constituted an informal steering committee within the EU which operates on the basis of behind-the-scenes diplomacy. In effect, Europe is run by a sort of permanent Congress of Vienna. The Lisbon Treaty is supposed to change this, by stipulating that the election of the Commission president reflect the outcome of the European election. But the treaty is not yet in force…
SPIEGEL: …because the Czech Republic and Ireland haven't ratified it yet. That's why the rules of the Nice Treaty apply.
So, he characterises the Council's game as follows:
The heads of state and government want to appoint the president swiftly, before the Parliament acquires more power. On the other hand, they want to appoint the other commissioners in accordance with the new version of the Lisbon Treaty, under which each country will continue to have its own commissioner. Under the old version of the treaty, some countries would have had to do without a commissioner. The governments are currently playing fast and loose with the rules, so to speak.
...SPIEGEL: The rules for Bundestag elections are undisputed. The German constitution is not amended during the election.
Schulz: That's true. But it's not me who is responsible for this unfortunate state of affairs, rather Ms Merkel and her officials, who are playing these games behind the scenes.
Finally, he reiterates the general point:
SPIEGEL: The European Parliament doesn't seem to be all that powerful. What does it lack?
Schulz: Essentially, a proper government that answers to the Parliament. The separation of powers we are familiar with from the nation state doesn't exist yet. If we had a European head of government who had to assemble a parliamentary majority, there would now be two candidates running for the office. I admit that if that were the case, it would be easier to motivate citizens to vote.
Now on to Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, former Danish PM for the Social Democrat, and present MEP and head of the PES.
There’s no ‘done deal’ on Barroso | PES
I keep reading in the media that Barroso’s second term as Commission President is a ‘done deal’.
Like Schulz, he puts the spotlight on the Council's drive to preempt the EP:
...the Council’s nomination is not sure. It is due to make its nomination on June 18/19 – very likely before a majority in the Parliament has been finalised. A proposal to postpone the Council until later in the month, when a new Parliamentary majority is more likely to be in place, is being resisted by guess who.
Barroso has been lobbying capitals for months if not years to give him a second term and is now is trying ensure that the Council nominates him before they know the majority in the Parliament
However -- the above leads him to an optimistic conclusion:
That’s not the behaviour of a man with a done deal.
And why the recent round of media interviews? Is this the behaviour of a man with a done deal, or the act of a man anxious to create the impression of a done deal?
Rasmussen's second argument (in response to a claim by FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau that an EPP win will create an unstoppable Barroso bandwagon) is that even if the EP conservatives ends up with the biggest faction, they won't have a majority, nor allies.
It is hard to imagine the yet to be formed anti-federalist group led by British and Czech Conservatives being in a hurry to pledge their support for Barroso. And even if they were, that would still not deliver a majority. The future of other right of centre groups is uncertain.
I have already explained in a previous blog why we Socialists are much less likely in 2009 to enter an agreement with the Conservatives than we were in 2004. The Greens are supporting a campaign ‘anyone but Barroso’. And why would the Liberals rush into a deal to vote for Barroso? The Liberal former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, who is standing in the European elections, is being touted in some quarters as an alternative to Barroso.
In a quip near the end, Rasmussen speaks clear words:
But I wholly agree with the admirable Mr Munchau when he describes Mr Barroso as “among the weakest Commission presidents ever”.
He says the likelihood of Barroso getting a second term is “very depressing”. I might join Mr Munchau in being depressed if I believed that it’s practically a done deal.
But thankfully it isn’t – it’s spin by Barroso and his supporters.
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As some kind of disclaimer: I'm not hiding my anti-Barroso and leftist bias in the above; but even readers of different persuasions may welcome signs of democratic competition emerging in the EP.