Is the EU a democracy? It is a damning commentary on the democratic ethics of the 27 governments of the EU that they choose the President of the European Commission in secret, without any recourse to democracy. The press is shut out. Rumours fly around. Candidates for the Commission sometimes mysteriously appear. Yet no advertisement for the post has been published. Sometimes only one candidate is discussed. Sometimes more. Who are these candidates? None other than the political buddies of government leaders. They all hold political party cards. They are floated by Europe’s political machines that represent no more than two percent of the citizenship.

A golf club where a clique excludes ordinary golfers and elects its leader in secret is suspicious enough, but is this stitch-up what Europeans want for the leader of the world’s largest economic super-power?

No other citizen — however well qualified — has a ghost of a chance to be considered. An impartial, non-political, and independent-minded person with civic courage is considered an outcaste by the Council. The struggle against Sovietization of Europe brought many courageous people to prominence. To succeed in the EU, they have to play the western game. Western Europeans have their own variation of the same danger of Soviet party control. In the DDR, the Democratic Republic of (East) Germany, there were parties called ‘Christian Democats’, ‘Liberals’, ‘Farmers’ and ‘National Democrats’ and the Socialists Unity Party. They were undemocratic Communist front organisations. The people were not allowed to express their thoughts freely. And the government repressed and stamped on anything that strayed from its narrow and misguided ideological line.

Have we learned the lesson? The Council only wants party political people. The 98 percent of the population who do not purchase party cards as ‘Christian Democrats’, ‘Liberals’ or ‘Socialists’ are non-people. Such methods by so-called democratic governments would not be amiss in North Korea or in the Soviet satellites. They called themselves “people’s democracies” but they were neither of the people or for the people. They were not democratic. They were counterfeits.

Real democracy, said Schuman, relates to common goals and the means to attain them. It is at the service of the people and acts in agreement with the people. It has nothing to do with control by party political machines.

All this chicanery is a sad reflection on the present set-up in the Council of Ministers. In reality it has become a political cabal, a cartel, that refuses to ask people their views. It is the last thrash of de Gaulle’s system. It is far, far from the democratic principles that Robert Schuman announced sixty years ago. It is a far cry from the principles of Human Rights that Schuman and others formulated in 1948-50 and set as European law. It is common Human Rights law that defines eligibility to a Community system, not geography. These rights implying equality of all citizens provide the very foundation of the New Europe.

How should Europeans elect the European Commission? Who should be the Europe’s leader? Shouldn’t all Europeans be involved in the election?

This is one of the most important questions for 500 million European citizens. Why is it so little discussed? Governments like to make fast decisions so that their choice is not questioned. Their choice becomes de facto the President. A moment’s reflection would indicate that it is very dubious from a de jure point of view. It is illegal. That is why the action of the Council of Ministers is a shame and a disgrace.

The European Commission is the most important body for the political, economic and social future of the European Union. The President of the Commission is the key position in the world’s most important commercial power, the European Union. Why then the shifty, devious, deceitful and underhand methodology to avoid the public having any say in the matter?

The Americans make a huge razzmatazz about electing their President. Public debates, mass rallies and the expenditure of around a billion dollars weed out candidates who are not suitable to major interests. In one sense, the Commission President is the European equivalent of the President of the United States of America. In actual fact it is far more important. Why? Well the European Union is a larger economic power than the United States. It is the world’s economic super-power. The USA is in full financial, political and military crisis. The dollar and the US economy have slumped, cankered by banking frauds and external debts. The Euro is constrained by statute from such reckless overspending.

As the USA is learning painfully, economic power is probably more important than military power. Military action and war, as well as burning billions of federal funds, can have the opposite policy effect from what was planned. Afghanistan and Iraq are still ablaze with intractable violence and festering with corruption. Instead of pacifying a situation once dominated by a dictator or an area where a terrorist was resident, unwise armed action has bred a plague of copycat terrorism and anti-Americanism.

What is even more important than both military and economic power is moral power. And beyond that wisdom. A smooth tongue and slick public relations are too often counter-productive, and sometimes totally disastrous. In the global society of today, respect and acquiescence to a nation’s values requires a leader with sterling character and a person who can communicate by word and action that he or she is leading in the right direction. A State can be as small as Switzerland and have a great affect on world politics. A group of nations acting in moral unison is exponentially more influential.

That is why potentially the European leader can be far more important than the leader of any single country. If Europe has such a policy option for the world, isn’t the election of a European President of enormous importance for the planet? The Commission President must work inside a system where impartiality, independence and moral character are required to bring together some thirty countries with different traditions and histories. That requires someone who will listen, someone who is humble, courageous and wise and not a rabble-rouser or the tool of a public relations agency working for hidden interests.

Europe needs an ethically robust system to choose a real leader with civic guts and moral courage.

To Come: Various ways to choose the European Commission

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  1. As far as I see, there is only one legitimate alternative to the present union of heads of state or government, namely a union based on EU citizens.

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  2. This article shows such a lack of understanding of the functioning of the EU that it is almost impossible to know where to begin in terms of rebutting its main points. But here goes!

    The EU cannot be compared to the United States which is a fully federal state with a water-tight distinction between the powers of the states and the federal government. The EU, on the other hand, is an “association of sovereign states to which the principal of conferral applies” (to borrow a phrase from the recent German Constitutional Court judgement in the matter). Or, in the terms of the French Constitution, a body to which the Member States have ceded certain powers but which they exercise in common.

    The President of the Commission is but one figure in the kaleidoscope of elements making up the system of legislative decision-making in the EU. (That Commission must, incidentally, act as a college i.e. the President has no power of proposal on his own. The college of Commissioners must agree).

    Other figures, under the Lisbon Treaty, will include the President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. But the institutions, in terms of the balance of power beteen them, remain largely unchanged, other than that some important new areas are moved to the co-decision procedure with the European Parliament.

    The arrangements for the appointments in each case vary but the methods are invariably democratic. The Heads of State or Government are operating on the basis of a democratic mandate (the requirements in respect of observing democratic rules being stringent within the EU and a sine qua non for membership), the ministers in their governments likewise (although they may be under varying levels of direction by their parliaments) and the members of the European Parliament (which has an important say in the matter of the appointment of the President of the Commission and in vetting the subsequent nominations for members of the Commission) are directly elected.

    One may think that the arrangements for the appointment of the President of the Commission could be better but by no stretch of the imagination can they be described as undemocratic.

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  3. Thanks for the comments. The EU is made up of two parts: the supranational European Communities which have a legal personality and a range of intergovernmental aspects which don’t and have less potential for democratic control. (They were added under the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties). For a comparison of the supranational system of democracy and the US federal system please refer to

    To be clear: I am not referring to the Lisbon Treaty which has not yet been fully ratified, democratically and legally, and may not be. My outlook draws from the original democratic concept of supranational Communities up to the present. The Lisbon Treaty foresees many conflicting posts with little means to resolve the non-democratic deficiencies added previously by anti-democrats with a purpose of undermining the supranational system. These include secret comitology which is an affront to democracy, created in the Gaullist period. The original concept of a supranational Community was to make all decisions subject to direct democracy of the people, organized interests and governments. We have over the last decades moved further away from this. Thus the main democratic question is whether Europeans want to move to rule by political party machines or towards the original concept of direct democracy.

    Clearly the President is part of a college, that is what the European Commission is. It has to be independent and non-political for the system to work well. The Commission is one of five supranational institutions required for common democratic decisions. (See ).The later Treaties do not seem to know how many democratic institutions exist, the number varies. That is a sign that either the treaty writers were confused (and did not understand supranational principles) or that they were trying to pull the wool over the eyes of European citizens. The Lisbon Treaty multiplies this confusion.

    I agree that the Council of Ministers should have a major function in the selection of the Commission. The treaties say so. But one should also expect that democratic leaders should act as if they were democrats. The Commission is not a secretariat, nor is it an arrangement for high paid jobs for the boys and girls of the political parties ONLY. The Founding Fathers indicated that it was open ALL European citizens by making sure that the first communities — involving the most sensitive sectors of the economy such as energy, construction, nuclear security and a common market — were led by personalities who were not party politicians.

    I hope to write about how the Commission should be selected and decided democratically according to the original letter and spirit of the founding treaties in future commentaries published here.

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  4. The difficulty I have with your approach is that it hops from topic to topic and I can find no centre to your argument.

    I suggest that you consider for a moment how the ‘Community method’ works. It consists of a separation of powers between the Commission, which holds sole right of proposal, and the legislature made up of the Council and the European Parliament under co-decision. The Council can be considered as representing the governments of the Member States, the European Parliament the citizens of the EU.

    By any measure, the procedure corresponds to democratic requirements and the resulting legislation is ‘supranational’ as it impacts directly on the legal systems of the Member States.

    Action by the Member States in the area of the common foreign and security policy, and police and judicial cooperation, on the other hand, is inter-governmental in character.

    The introduction of the posts of President of the European Council and the High Representative does not change these arrangements which are commonly described as the “institutional balance”. Over 50 years of European construction, they have shown their worth.

    It would be a brave, or hubristic, thought to imagine that an alternative can suddenly be found.

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  5. Thanks for the comment. The centre of the argument is democracy — and in particular supranational democracy. I am also indicating how this original concept of new form of democracy was distorted and “chloroformed” by its opponents, who included de Gaulle and otehr nationalists.

    Schuman’s concept of democracy gave as much power to all areas of society. This distinguishes it from nationalism which sees a leader as the main expression of power, authority and direction for the nation, without much recourse to debate and respect for others.

    You are right that certain institutions are specialised to be the fora for such debates in the Community system. You neglect to mention one important one — for organized civil society. (See ) De Gaulle tried to dismantle it, and few people give it any respect today. Yet it is vital for efficient and wise government. The treaties allow it to regain its powers — in some areas greater than Parliament — once Europeans have the courage to do so. There is no legal impediment to building Europe on these lines.

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