Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Self-Goal by the EU Parliament!

If only EU parliamentarians had stuck to the principle assigned to EU elections by the Lisbon Treaty! Since they didn't, the EU will now end up with one of two evils, whereby it is questionable which of the two evils is worse.

Evil 1: the European Council (heads of state) pushes through a new President of the EU Commission who is not Jean-Claude Juncker. However qualified that person may be, such a move will be one more, and a very major, piece in the puzzle showing the EU as a non-democratic entity reminiscent of the former UdSSR.

Evil 2: Jean-Claude Juncker becomes the new President of the EU Commission. Then the EU Commission will have a President who will claim that he was democratically elected but who has not received one single vote. Not to mention the fact that I have yet to see one single analysis which suggests that Juncker might have the qualifications for President of the EU Commission.

All of this started with the EU Parliament's (notably Mssrs. Schulz and Juncker) turning the EU elections into a powerplay for the position of President of the EU Commission. Nowhere in the Lisbon Treaty is this role foreseen for the EU elections. This was then compounded by the European Council's allowing itself to be trapped into seemingly condoning this approach. Instead of responding to the EU Parliament's powerplay forcefully from the start by pointing out what the Lisbon Treaty said, they allowed things to unfold and, in the end, even endorsed this powerplay: leading heads of state publicly endorsed Schulz/Juncker as their candidates, creating the impression that they would accept the winner as the next President of the EU Commission.

To put things into place: this was an election to the EU Parliament! If anything, voters could have expected that they would elect the new President of the EU Parliament! At least they should have expected that any candidate in these elections would in fact be a candidate for the EU Parliament. In actual fact, at least two of the candidates in play (Jean-Claude Juncker and Alexis Tsipras) were not even on any election list. Furthermore, Juncker had made it clear from the start that he would not work in the EU Parliament.

What a democratic farce is that when a top candidate for the EU Parliament isn't even prepared to run for a seat in that parliament? Whatever one may think of Martin Schulz, the former mayor of a 40.000-people city in Germany, as a candidate for a top job in the EU, at least he had the courage to give the voters of his country the chance to vote for him (he was No. 1 on the SPD list). As I said, Juncker was not on the list of any party in any country. And in his own country he was just recently voted out of government.

Alexis Tsipras is now being praised, by some, for having given Chancellor Merkel a lesson in democracy by expressing his support of Jean-Claude Juncker. What a farce! If Tsipras really had had such a high regard for the EU Parliament, he would have made himself No.1 on SYRIZA's election list to make sure that he could work in that parliament instead of downgrading that institution to a jumping board for another job. Instead, a brief glance at the quality of the people on SYRIZA's election list shows clearly what this party thinks about the importance of the EU Parliament.

As I said, there is now no good solution possible; the end result will be bad for the EU. Responsible for this mess are those who started the process of a powerplay, notably Mssrs. Schulz and Juncker, and the heads of state of allowed this powerplay to unfold (notably David Cameron and Angela Merkel).


  1. AS I have no registered to vote in Greece (and know from British friends how much the Greek state conspires to stop non-Greek EU citizens from voting), I was not aware that the voting for the 5 politicians was such a fraud.

    Having said that, I still think the principle of democracy applies -- which is, the European Council should respect the process of candidacy and not appoint anyone who was not in that process. I agree that the "winner" is not a suitable person to lead the EU out of crisis, just as Barroso was far from suitable. But this is the game that our national politicians are playing in Europe; you are wrong to criticise the European Parliament, I think. The greatest blame goes onto Germany. Just as Schauble thinks he is the Finance Minister for all of Europe, Merkel thinks that she is in charge. The lack of democratic commitment by the Germans is very troubling indeed.

    By the way, the Council of Europe is a different legal entity (Conseil de l'Europe: ) from the European Council, which is merely the institution of national governments meeting for European Union purposes. You need to correct the mistranslation.

    1. Thank you for pointing out my mistake on the European Council. I have corrected it.

    2. 1 of 2
      I think here you and I will have to agree that we disagree.

      I am fanatic about constitutions because without them, there cannot be real democracy. They should be treated like ‘holy’. If there is something unclear about a constitution, it is the Supreme Court which has to interprete it and not politicians. If politicians don’t like the constitution, they have to garner up the necessary majority and change it (or whatever else the constitution requires for a change of itself).

      Now, I realize that in practice there is the written constitution on one hand and the lived political reality on the other. In Austria, for example, there is something called the ‘Social Partnership’ (SP). The SP includes the country’s 4 major interest groups: unions, chamber of labor, chamber of business, chamber of agriculture). In essence, they are 4 people; no more. Since WWII, the SP has essentially been the executive and legislative of Austria combined. The government cannot do anything against the SP and just about everything the SP wants it gets. The parliament has been reduced to a rubber stamp function. I should add that this system has served the country quite well throughout the years (in fact, one could doubt whether Austria would have had the recovery after WWII and the State Treaty of 1956 without that SP). Thus, that SP has become a bit ‘holy’ in the lived political practice of Austria. No one dares to ‘play around’ with it.

      The only problem is: the SP is nowhere mentioned in Austria’s constitution… Common sense would tell me not to fix anything which works. My fanatic constitutionalism tells me that this is terribly wrong.

      When the Council (or certain members thereof) claims the Council’s right to appoint the EU President, it does what the Constitution assigns to it. When the Parliament claims a right to nominate the candidate, it does something which is nowhere referenced in the constitution. It’s just as simple as that.

      The constitution would not have to say that the Council ‘will take into account the latest election results’. Given that the Parliament has to approve their appointed candidate, they have no choice but to do so. If the Parliament really stands firmly behind Juncker, there is no way that it cannot get him. If the Council were to stand firmly behind a Lagarde, there is no assurance that it will get her.

      I question the suggestion that Juncker/Schulz represented more democracy than the Council. After all, the Council’s members were truly elected in national elections. Juncker/Schulz were the candidates of the two large EU party conglomerates but did voters really know for which of the two they voted? I guess if they voted for either the Conservatives of Social Democrats of their respective countries, they had fair reason to assume that they would vote for Juncker or Schulz. But how about the other voters? As far as I know, many of the other parties did not declare themselves for a candidate prior to the election. In fact, some of them don’t even know to this date. In fact, there was a curious situation in one of the Austrian TV debates with the top candidates of all parties. The candidate of one of the smaller parties was asked “if I vote for your party, do I vote for Juncker or Schulz” and the candidate could not give a direct answer.

    3. 2 of 2
      Not only is the Parliament’s grab for the nominating right uncovered by the constitution, the notion that the candidate of the largest party has the right to be that nominee is a complete farce; a fairy tale put into existence by no other than Juncker/Schulz. Most representative democracies these days require coalition governments for lack of absolute majorities. CDU/CSU were by far the largest party in the last German election but they did not quite reach the absolute majority. Thus, it was perfectly legitimate for the much smaller SPD to explore ways how they could possibly form a coaltion with a majority. They failed to do so but for several years, Germany was governed by an SPD/FDP coaltion even though CDU/CSU were the largest party.

      Such coalitions take weeks or months to put together because there has to be substantial agreement on substance. Juncker managed to form a majority within 24 hours. Couldn’t have had much to do with substance, don’t you think. So Tsipras gets applause for showing Merkel what democracy is all about by supporting Juncker out of principle. Suppose Juncker would have run on a platform of more austerity for Greece and the EPP would still have come out as the largest party. If Tsipras had adhered to his principles in that kind of a scenario, the SYRIZA voters would, in fact, have voted for more austerity for Greece!

      Please note that I haven’t even gotten into the question of qualifications for the job. That didn’t seem to be an issue at all during the election. Without getting into Juncker’s disqualifications (in my opinion) on the EU level, I would like to see a survey what the voters of Luxemburg say about a leader whom they finally voted out of office (among others for alleged corruption) only to see him back as the EU President without them having been able to either vote for or against him?

      I rest my case.

    4. I don't actually disagree with anything you have said here, other than the conclusion! I too believe in constitutionality and democratic process; the problem here is that the EU has a serious democratic deficit, identified a long time ago. This is primarily because it is not a federal system, but a very loose confederal system which has been morphing into a complex structure,of which parts are federal, parts are confederal with opt-outs for some countries, parts are intergovernmental within a larger framework, and some areas are even outside of the Treaties (eg direct taxation).

      Moreover, there is no constitution: only the Treaty bases, the common international agreements that are now considered to be fundamental to European values (such as the European Convention on Human Rights and some of the multilateral treaties of the Conseil de l'Europe, but not all...), and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice. The attempt to impose a French style constitution in the Lisbon Treaty was happily stopped (because it was undemocratic).

      So, we are dealing with a creature that is not a normal organism. Its blood supply is pumped into it from 28 regional sources; its heart (the European Parliament) is confused and moves back and forth between two locations; its brain (the Commission) tries to give autonomy to the organism, but is obliged to take instructions from the 28 peripheral power sources who regularly threaten to turn off the blood supply...

      So, in the context of all this, the EP members try to wrest more power for their institution on a continuous basis. The original treaties stipulate that the member states (the European Council) appoint the Commission, so the EP demands that there should be more democracy. The half-assed scheme that they have come up with is bad; it is slightly more democratic than before, but possibly in misleading ways too. Having started this process, all parties are obliged to accept their own culpability in implementing a poorly thought out scheme (much like the eurozone). They are also obliged to respect the feelings of voters, who are already highly anti-European in general -- for the first time since 1957. The correct path is to appoint Juncker in this shambles of an election, and acknowledge that the mistakes require correction by Treaty amendment and whatever else it takes.

      Do not forget, that the UK crook who is PM announced before the whole process not that he objected to the process, but that he would never allow Juncker to be appointed. This is a direct challenge to the concept of democracy by the UK, regardless of the quality of the process. His opposition was always to the person of Juncker, primarily because he though that Juncker would be a tough negotiator when confronted with British demands for this and that concession.

      So, the bottom line is that for law and order to prevail, the concept of democracy to the upheld at least in principle, and to prevent the abuse of power by individual countries, the totally useless Juncker has to be appointed. I am far from happy with this conclusion.

    5. Let’s say we agree on principle but not quite on its implementation, even though the net result of your and my views is likely to be the same: Juncker will likely get the job for the simple reason that the Council is unlikely to achieve a majority for any other candidate. I just think the other way around would have been constitutionally more ‘hygienic’: i. e. the right to appoint the candidate should have been left exclusively with the Council (as the treaty says) but the Council should have actively campaigned for a majority in Parliament (i. e. appointed someone who would definitely get a majority, which would most likely have been the winner of the election).

      There is, however, now room for a worst-case scenario, that would be if Juncker did not get the job. That, in my opinion, could only be ‘achieved’ by some backroom deal where Juncker withdraws his candidacy in exchange for the promise to get another big job. That would be the epitome of a farce of democracy.

    6. So, as we could expect, your worst case scenario has emerged. What really galls is that not only do politicians show no shame about the lack of proper democratic process, but the mass media also seem to have no critical faculties. This is a repeat of all the previous mistakes of the EU, where respect for the voters is precisely zero and the newspapers/tv have nothing to say.

      The outcome of this incompetent and abusive behaviour is most likely to be the rise of far right and secessionist parties, such as UKIP -- and ultimately the possible collapse of the EU. Why we have such useless people in positions of political power is the major problem of the 21st century. Economic problems take second or even third place to issues of systematic incompetence, abuse and corruption.

    7. Don't know why you say that my worst case scenario has emerged. As far as I can tell, Juncker is still on track.

      To say that either Juncker or Schulz 'were elected by the people of Europe' is a joke to me. National parties had run in the election and most of those national parties (not all) teamed up in the EU Parliament to form some form of a conglomerate and those conglomerates put Juncker/Schulz at their tops. I would venture to say that only a small minority of voters knew who Juncker/Schulz were and many probably didn't even know whether the national party they voted for was for or against one or the other.

      Given that setup, I would have liked to see, starting on Monday after the election, intense coalition building within the parliament not based on the personality of candidates but, instead, on issues. Whoever would have come out as the winner could have credibly argued that he won based on a program which carried the absolute majority of the parlimentarians who were indeed democratically elected by the voters of their countries.

    8. At the time of posting, I had just read in a British newspaper that Juncker had been persuaded to withdraw his candidacy. It seems that the newspaper was either wrong or premature...

  2. The below article (in German) pretty well summarizes my feelings about this issue.