Thursday, 12 September 2013

An Unelected Euro-President?

This week has seen a bit of a bit of a spat between Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, and Martin Callanan, Conservative Member of the European Parliament, who is leader of the European Conservative & Reformist MEPs.

It is interesting that Callanan comments:

a bit rich for the unelected head of the European Commission to give electoral advice… but I suppose that's typical of him

But is Barroso unelected?

If we look at the current rules, we come across the current Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union, and section 7 of that Article states:

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.

The Council, by common accord with the President-elect, shall adopt the list of the other persons whom it proposes for appointment as members of the Commission. They shall be selected, on the basis of the suggestions made by Member States, in accordance with the criteria set out in paragraph 3, second subparagraph, and paragraph 5, second subparagraph.

The President, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the other members of the Commission shall be subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament. On the basis of this consent.

And the next section states:

The Commission, as a body, shall be responsible to the European Parliament. In accordance with Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the European Parliament may vote on a motion of censure of the Commission. If such a motion is carried, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from the duties that he carries out in the Commission.

So, what is this telling us:

  • A candidate for President is chosen by the European Council - comprised of the Heads of Government (in parliamentary systems) or the Heads of State (in presidential or semi-presidential systems)
  • The European Parliament - elected by the people of the European Union - can elect the candidate by an absolute majority or they can reject the candidate, in which case the Council has to restart the process
  • The Parliament votes a second time, this time on the whole Commission
  • And the Parliament may, if it wishes to, dismiss the entire Commission en masse

One criticism from the left is that the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government is "unelected". Up to a point, but this overlooks the fact that in the United Kingdom we do not elect a Prime Minister nor a Government. We elect a House of Commons - and a Goverment needs to be formed that has the confidence of the Commons.

If there is a mid-term change of Prime Minister then there is no election - just one person who has majority support is replaced by another. If from the same party then there is no parliamentary vote. If from a different party then no doubt the procedures under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 will be followed (a vote of no confidence in the Government, followed by a vote of confidence in the incoming Government).

So, the Commission President has to jump through a hoop British Prime Ministers don't have to - the formal approval of Parliament. And a Prime Minister can bring new members into the Cabinet without a parliamentary vote.

But if Callanan still feels Barroso is unelected, then there is one thing he can call for - a Commission President elected by the people. This has been proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and by German Minister for Finance Wolfgang Schäuble.

But somehow I doubt some of those complaining that Barroso is unelected would actually welcome that.

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