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It’s time for One President of the EU

, by Jon Worth

“Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” is Henry Kissinger’s famous question. It’s high time for an answer, and the institutional changes in the EU that will be introduced from 2009 when the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified allow that to happen – only not quite in the way the media has been speculating.

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Speculation abounds about whether Tony Blair, Jean Claude Juncker, Bertie Ahern or someone else might be the first President of the European Council, the new position created by the Treaty of Lisbon. The First President of Europe! cries the media in a shrill fashion.

But hold on a moment. There is a President in the European Union already – the President of the European Commission – and that role is democratically accountable to the European Parliament. The very worst thing that could happen would be for the European Council President to create an additional power base in Brussels, weakening the Commission and reducing democratic accountability (the European Council position is appointed by the Heads of State and Government).

So what’s the solution? For Jan Seifert and I, the two bloggers that have created the website http://www.whodoicall.eu/, the best bet is to combine both President positions – so the same person is President of the Commission and President of the European Council. Coherence between the institutions and democratic legitimacy would hence be guaranteed.

Check out the website, link to us from your blog, join the Facebook group and participate in the campaign to make a proper President of the European Union.

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  • On 6 March 2008 at 12:03, by Florent Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    I fully agree that the Mister President (the one who should be called) should be the president of the Commission. But this can’t be done just by stating it. The extra european countries will call him if he is legitimate and has power, not because the treaties say so.

    Consequently, we should increase its power by legitimating him.

    Today, the president of the Commission is nominated by the Council. What would happen if the President of the commission would be also the president of the European Council? Will this increase the independence and efficiency of the Commission or not? I don’t think so. We will have a very powerful President (I agree with you), but we will legitimate the intergovernmental vision of the EU. The Commission will become a chamber of the European Council. Not really what I want.

    We have to avoid this control of the head of States on the Commission (by nominating the president) instead of fostering it. I am sorry, I think it is the wrong message to spread today although the idea might look nice. If you really want to increase the power of the president of the Commission, you should ask to the EP candidates to present their candidate to the role of President of the Commission. If the latter is chosen from the majority of the EP, he will have a stronger legitimacy than if he is chosen by the governments. This is a way of having the right person called.

  • On 6 March 2008 at 14:19, by Jon Worth Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    I think you have your argument backwards - this is a campaign for now, not for evermore for the federalists.

    Some background first of all.

    Is this campaign, and the need for One President the best possible solution for the institutions? NO. Is it the best we can get from the Reform Treaty / Lisbon Treaty. YES.

    Why?

    Whether we like it or not there will be a permanent President of the European Council, that will in some way rival the President of the European Commission. If the President of the European Council were to be a strong person (Blair, or even Juncker) and the Commission President weak (Barroso again..?) then we really have a problem. A strong European Council President, on his (or her) own, has NO democratic legitimacy, and can rival the Commission - as federalists we lose all round.

    So what else can be done? Hope that the Commission President is strong, and the European Council President is weak? Or do something about it and demand - legally possible with the Reform Treaty - that both posts are held by the same person, and democratic legitimacy be achieved because the Commission President has to be approved by the European Parliament.

    Longer term the rules need to be changed in terms of how the Commission President is chosen - that for sure needs to be improved.

    But at the moment the debate about the main EU jobs in 2009 is all wrong. Look at these articles from decent news sources:

    http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3125768,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-eu-2092-rdf http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/03/europe/union.php http://www.independent.co.uk/news/europe/bertie-ahern-tipped-for-eu-presidency-791344.html

    The press coverage is that the European Council President will be ’the EU’s first full time President’ - now if that doesn’t concern you (and demonstrate why something needs to be done) then what does?

  • On 6 March 2008 at 17:41, by Florent Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    “So what else can be done?” We should enhance the powers of the President of the Commission using the tools offered by the Lisbon Treaty. For example by asking the European Political parties to propose a candidate for the President of the Commission. The candidates should be known in advance so that the candidate who will be President of the Commission will have the legitimacy of 500 millions of Europeans and then he will have power against the President of the Council.

    Honestly Jon, I prefer having Blair as president of the European Council and Barroso at the Commission than having Blair as president of everything… And my fear about your proposal is that we will create a strong link between the Council and the Commission, thing that should be avoided for efficiency and democratic reasons. As far as I understood you, you would prefer having the President of the Commission as the person to call. So instead of merging the two – which will subject the Commission to the European Council- we should foster the powers of the President of the Commission –also using the tools available in the Lisbon Treaty mentioned above. I have the feeling that by trying to save the face of the president of the Commission, we end up by shooting him even more.

    Here an article which conclusion goes in the same direction (I should translate it into English ;-) ) http://www.taurillon.org/Alain-Lamassoure-le-traite-de-Lisbonne-surprendra?var_recherche=lamassoure

  • On 6 March 2008 at 19:08, by Kevin Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    In many democracies the State has two heads : a President, whose power is symbolic, and a Prime Minister, directly legitimated by the Parliament and in charge of the country. I think that the Commission’s President should be like a First Minister of the EU, and the President of the European Council a symbolic President. And I think that we should explain it to the media through a specific campaign.

    The campaign we should initiate is therefore different : we should explain that EU’s first First Minister will be elected by the Parliament in 2009 and will be named “President of the Commission”. And we should request every European Party to present a candidature.

    I think the “whodoicall” campaign makes things even more confuse than what they already are... And I think we the campaign I suggest is necessary to be prepared for the next elections.

    What is your own opinion ?

  • On 10 March 2008 at 18:02, by ? Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    Florent - the thing is that you won’t get Blair as President of the Commission and President of the European Council. That’s because he wants ’high politics’ and not administration. Plus there’s no danger of getting Blair for any of these positions as far as I am concerned...

    But there IS a danger - that the European Council President will be a risk to the Commission. That cannot be denied. Look at the masses of press coverage about the President of the European Council position, and basically nothing about the Commission.

    The issue is this: there is a debate about the President of the European Council - whether we like it or not. Either the federalists arrogantly say they are above that debate (more or less what you’re saying) or an effort is needed to influence that debate in some way. You are not answering the question about what to do with the President of the European Council...

    Now, I agree with you that the political parties should nominate people to be President of the European Commission. For that reason JEF should back “Who’s Your Candidate?”, the initiative of Nyt Europa. See: http://www.neweurope.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=234&Itemid=238

    But that is in no way inconsistent with having the European Council President being the same person.

    There are many battles to be fought in all of this - it’s not a question of putting all the eggs in one basket.

  • On 13 June 2008 at 05:47, by Maurits Vande Reyde Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    I do not see any advantage in merging the 2 jobs.

    First of all , and most obviously, the European Commission and the European Council are 2 separate institutions with different roles . Which logic states that you can have more clarity by merging the heads of 2 entities together? If this new super-president would state something, under which hat will it be? It would make as much sense as merging the jobs of European Parliament and the commission together.

    Secondly, Kissinger’s quote did not relate to the “Who’s the big guy in Europe?”-question but to the “Who’s responsible for foreign communication?” . The Lisbon-treaty very much answers this question with the new function of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (this person is going to need XL-name cards).

    And finally , I agree with Florent that such a super position will only enlarge the democratic deficit of the Union. Merging the president’s position is close to merging the 2 instuitions. Taken in to account that the Commission servers the interest of the European Union (in theory ,at least) and build on consensus and the European Council is a conference of head of states, protecting states interests above all and with no direct democratic powers relating the Union..well, we would just be going back some decades on the European integration process path doing that.

  • On 8 August 2008 at 21:13, by Mary K. Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    Who is the President of the EU right now? Thanks, Mary

  • On 29 April 2010 at 17:44, by Viva Portugal Replying to: It’s time for One President of the EU

    Initially, when the EU was being crafted, the concern from each country involved was that they would be sucked up and homogenized into one large body, losing their respective character and culture. Well it appears that those fears and concerns are being proven out with each passing day.

    Should there be just one president for the EU? Common sense would say yes but what always remains as an unanswerable question is...“will this one president and cabinet be accountable to each and every member country?”

    With the one president there will be a consolidation/reduction/eradication of the current commission, although not at all at once it will happen.

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