Saturday, 28 June 2014

How To Select The Commission President

With the choice now having been made, I have given some thought as to how the President of the European Commission should be chosen for 2019 onwards.

The key thing to keep in mind is that there needs to be a balance between the centre (the directly-elected European Parliament) and the member states (represented in the European Council).

What I think is also needed is a third leg to this - bringing the member states in via their national Parliaments. I have already outlined how the European Parliament should have a bicameral structure with Senators drawn from Members of National Parliaments (MNPs). And maybe it is time for MNPs, as well as Heads of Government, to have a say.

With this in mind, I note the One Member One Vote reforms of the mid-nineties in electing the Labour party leader and deputy leader. This is done using the Alternative Vote, with there being three equal sections in the Electoral College - the parliamentary party, trade unions & socialist societies, and constituency parties.

The first thing to do is to look at the number of Members of the European Parliament that each nation has, and its voting strength in the European Council and Council of Ministers:

Country MEPs Council
Germany 96 29
France 74 29
Italy 73 29
United Kingdom 73 29
Spain 54 27
Poland 51 27
Romania 32 14
Netherlands 26 13
Belgium 21 12
Czech Republic 21 12
Greece 21 12
Hungary 21 12
Portugal 21 12
Sweden 20 10
Austria 18 10
Bulgaria 17 10
Denmark 13 7
Finland 13 7
Slovakia 13 7
Croatia 11 7
Ireland 11 7
Lithuania 11 7
Latvia 8 4
Slovenia 8 4
Cyrpus 6 4
Estonia 6 4
Luxembourg 6 4
Malta 6 3
Total 751 352

One country to look at is Ireland, and the method for nominating its President, who can be nominated one of three ways:

  • At least 20 members of the Oireachtas (which is comprised of 166 members of the Dáil Éireann and 60 of the Seanad Éireann)
  • At least 4 councils
  • Self-nomination in the case of a President who has served once

At the moment, the European Council can only nominate one candidate at a time, by Qualified Majority Voting. One change could be for there to be a genuine election, with member nations nominating. If we look at the Irish example, then with there being 352 votes in the European Council, 20/226 of this is 31 votes.

Now, no country can muster 31 votes on its own - the Big Four would all need the support of just 1 other country. Allowing a candidate to be nominated by 31 Council votes would mean that the European People's Party and the Party of European Socialists would cross that hurdle. The Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe tend to lead Governments in small nations, and both they and the Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists would not pass the threshhold on their own. Remember, though, that there are wildcard members of the Council, who could throw their weight behind a minor party, or maybe a coalition Government could use its Council votes to nominate a candidate from the junior partner.

Note that I said nomination should come from the member nations. In Ireland, there will be party political councillors who nonetheless, help give their council's nomination to an Independent candidate. They are not saying they support that person - they are just saying they think that person should be on the ballot.

In addition, it seems normal for Commission Presidents to serve 2 terms.

With this in mind, I suggest the nomination requirements should be:

  • 31 or more votes in the European Council
  • Resolutions from 4 or more national Parliaments
  • Self-nomination from the sitting Commission President if he or she is in their first term

Note that in this nomination process, there is no role for MEPs.

When it comes to the actual voting, then there should be a weighting of votes. MEPs, MNPs and the European Council each have one-third of the votes.

To see how this would work in practice, consider the United Kingdom. The European Parliament as a whole would have 1/3 of the vote. As 3 x 751 is 2,253, each MEP's vote would be worth 1/2,253 of the whole in the Electoral College. Between them, the United Kingdom MEPs would have 73/2,253 of the total Electoral College vote - equivalent to 3.24% of the whole.

Between them, our MPs would also have 73/2,253 of the whole vote. With 650 MPs, this works out as each MP's vote having a weight of 73/1,464,450. That is just under a twenty-thousandths of the total vote in the Electoral College.

Finally, we look at the Prime Minister. As we have 29 votes in the European Council, his vote would have a weight of 29/(3 x 352) = 29/1,056 of the whole Electoral College. This would be equivalent to 62 MEPs or 551 MPs.

One complaint from Eurosceptics is that MEPs are "federalist" and would support candidates with a "federalist" agenda. As this system would give national Parliaments equal weighting with the European Parliament, MNPs can form a natural counterbalance to MEPs (and indeed, two-thirds of the votes in the Electoral College would be exercised by national politicians). For the more enthusiastic Europhiles, this would give a Commission President with a stronger mandate, elected in a process involving more than one candidate, drawn from national Parliaments, national Governments and the European Parliament.

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