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How to govern Europe better: Reflections on reform of the European Parliament, Commission and Council

Andrew Duff

Date: 13/02/2018

President Tusk has called an informal meeting of the European Council of 27 on 23 February to discuss constitutional questions after Brexit. Andrew Duff, Visiting Fellow at the European Policy Centre and President of the Spinelli Group, reflects on the agenda and makes proposals on the following interconnected matters:

  • Seats in the EP: The Parliament struggles to meet the criteria laid down in the Treaties despite the Brexit dividend of 73 vacant seats. Instead of agreeing on a mathematical formula for the allocation of seats per member states ahead of the 2019 elections, the EP has given into the pressure of those states that are at present over-privileged in terms of seats. Duff argues that the European Council should at the very least undertake to guarantee the introduction of the formula in good time for the 2024 elections.
  • Transnational lists: In September 2017, President Juncker argued that transnational lists would bring “democracy and clarity” to Europe. On 7 February, however, the EPP ensured that Parliament voted down the proposal on transnational lists. How the European Council deals with the matter on 23 February is tied up with its attitude to the method of election of Mr Juncker’s eventual successor.
  • Spitzenkandidaten: Without transnational lists to head, it is questionable whether the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ experiment of 2014 can or will be repeated in 2019. The European Council should concentrate on finding the best possible successor to Mr Juncker, in the knowledge that the choice will have to be consensual between Parliament and Council. The heads of government should question whether the Commission presidency is the right target for Spitzenkandidaten, or whether competition for senior posts in the Parliament would make for a more credible alternative contest.
  • Dual Presidency: The controversy surrounding the Spitzenkandidaten has a bearing on the future of the two presidencies of the Commission and European Council. Mr Juncker favours a merger of the two. While Duff agrees that the present division of powers between them is unclear both to the EU citizen and to third countries, he argues that merger may be a simplistic solution, and suggests that the real role for the European Council is to manage better the affairs of the Council of Ministers.
  • Federal route: In any event, the refusal of the Parliament to have transnational listsprompts Duff to ask if other approaches to the federalisation of EU politics, including the development of real European political parties, should be tried. He argues that it is time to consider properly the direct election of the Commission President by universal suffrage.
  • Number of commissioners: The European Council on 23 February should also try again to reduce the size of the next Commission by returning to the prescription in the Treaty of Lisbon.
  • Multi-Annual Financial Framework: Duff expects the European Parliament to be tougher in the negotiations on financial reform of the Union than it was about electoral reform. Heads of government will know that the Union’s new financial deal, including the creation of fresh sources of revenue, requires Parliament’s endorsement.
  • Who rules: President Macron wants the Union to enjoy its own sovereignty. If so, executive authority must be centralised in the supranational Commission. If confederal arrangements are preferred, and sovereignty is anchored in the states, the part-time intergovernmental body of the European Council will find itself in charge. Neither the European Council nor the European Parliament is ready to resolve that issue now.
  • Treaty amendment: Duff hopes that opening up the constitutional debate now will render the EU institutions and national parliaments better prepared for the next Convention than they were for the last. As the next round of treaty amendment is likely to come during the upcoming mandate of 2019-24, there is no time to be wasted in its preparation.
  • Reflection group: However ready President Tusk is to launch the debate on 23 February, a sensible outcome of the meeting would be to convene an independent group of wise persons to reflect more fully on the strengths and weaknesses of the EU’s current constitution and to scope the mandate of the next Convention.

In conclusion, Duff argues that nobody can have all the answers to these complex constitutional issues. Thus, one sensible outcome of the meeting next week might be the convening of an independent group charged to reflect more fully on the strengths and weaknesses of the EU’s current constitution: it might even be invited to scope the mandate of the next Convention.

Read the full paper here

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