Notes on European political culture




What is new and what is old about the EC presidency

Against the backdrop of the recent boat-rocking European Parliament elections, which saw the extreme right groups—in particular France’s Front National—make prominent inroads, the process of electing on new president of the European Commission is revealing a new story not only about the politics of the post, but about the particular historical setting in which Europe finds itself.

News comes from Harpsund, Sweden that opposition is growing against the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, member of the European People’s Party. With a long and eminent career in European top-politics behind him, Juncker is widely respected as a highly competent political voice in European politics. Why is his candidacy to the post of EC president on the brink of stalling?

The appointment process for the chief Commissioner is an arduous one. According to the rules laid out in the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council—the body of representing the heads of state of the Member States— nominates, by a qualified majority, a candidate for the presidency. The candidate is then voted upon in the European Parliament. An absolute majority is required. The Parliament then votes similarly on the cabinet of Commissioners proposed by the new president. Finally, the Council votes to appoint the entire package of Commission president and Commissioners.

Two institutional issues are particularly important for the selection of the EC president.

First, the Parliament’s make-up is crucial to determining the president. The re-formation of the EP’s 7 traditional groups, and the possible addition of an 8th, extreme right, group, is being played out by together with the political shuffling around the presidency.

Second, the since the final decision will be made of the Council—the body of the heads of state—the game is also played on the national political level. Thus the summit of state leaders in Sweden this weekend where David Cameron’s, backed by the unified groups of the British Members of European Parliament, has become the forum where the final assault on the Juncker candidacy is waged.

The positions in the clash are simple, though their routes are historically complex. To the Euro-skeptics Juncker represents Old Europe and the incarnation of the EU that sought integration at any price. Whatever ailed the EU, the medicine was a further interlocking the collective future of the Union in order to assure social, cultural and above all economic solidarity, even when this solidarity had to be obtained at the end of a stick. A common destiny, shared experience of blows of history would ensure not only that there would be no return to the violent past from which the EU was born, but also that as shared experience of yet unforeseen future hardships and glories, would assure that all of Europe’s resources would be directed toward the same goals.

The growing anti-Juncker coalition is in this sense a judgement on the European Union in its current form institutional form and a declaration of a need for reform through a Commissioner (it is still unclear who that would be) of a New Europe. This is of course a too easy argument for an EU deeply imbedded in a global economy in which the entire world suffers. Given that the present economic crisis—which threatens the very stability of those Member States worst hit and thwarts the economic golden age of those hit least—is indeed global and not solely European, one might be tempted to raise one’s gaze above the mechanics of EU institutional reform and over to a re-examination of the historically determined economic factors that have led Europe to this cross-roads.

Ironically, but perhaps not unexpectedly, it is not those who most desperately need some kind of structural change in their relation to the EU—Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and others—who are seeking to revolutionise thinking about the meaning of economic integration. The revolution is coming from the well-established and notably centre-right-leaning Member States, first the U.K., now the Swedes, Dutch, Hungarians and now possibly the Germans.

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