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26. November 2019
Five ways to fix European democracy
After weeks of struggle, the European institutions have finally chosen the leaders who will preside over the next five years of EU policymaking. It is now time for the European Parliament to turn its attention to fight for a more democratic Europe.
Since the European Commission, Council and Parliament were created, there have always been questions about the checks and balances in the system — and whether the institutional arrangement truly reflects European democracy.
Any system can be improved, and the European Union has the perfect asset to accomplish that: a Parliament directly elected by European citizens.
The Parliament’s democratic mandate is beyond doubt. More than 200 million people voted in the last European Parliament election — nearly 50 percent more than in the last presidential election in the United States.
And yet, there are many in Brussels and other European capitals who prefer to make decisions through quick backroom deals, in which the direct choice of the voters becomes victim to personal power games.
As members of the Parliament, we failed in our attempt to put in place a lead-candidate — or Spitzenkandidat — system to allow European citizens an opportunity to elect the president of the Commission. But we cannot stay licking our wounds.
The time has come to adjust our checks and balances and give more weight to parliamentary democracy. Indeed, we have a duty to translate the interests and concerns of the people who have voted for us into a representative voice in EU decision-making.
First, the Parliament should insist on a real right of legislative initiative, something enjoyed by all national parliaments. This need not require treaty changes — just that the newly elected president of the European Commission agrees to implement any decision taken by a majority vote in the Parliament. The EPP Group will push for the framework agreement between the European Parliament and the European Commission to be updated accordingly.
Second, the Parliament should set the legislative agenda for the European Commission. Its mandate must be determined by the priorities agreed to by the Parliament’s pro-European political forces. We want to modify the way we work with the European Commission to make it more political. Every year, the European Parliament and the European Commission should agree, based on the discussions with the main groups of the European Parliament, on concrete projects which the European Commission will focus on. Those should reflect the priorities of the constructive forces in the European Parliament.
Third, the Parliament must reinforce its powers of control and investigation — making sure to monitor not just the work of the Commission but also projects undertaken by national governments using EU funds. Currently not the European Commission, but rather the Council, is blocking changes in this direction. We will negotiate with the Council and use all the legal tools at our disposal to bring the Council to change its position in this regard.
Fourth, we need to push the new Commission to cut bureaucratic red tape in order to concentrate initiatives that can best be accomplished at the European level. We need to combat the false narrative peddled by some national governments that Europe is to blame for anything that goes wrong at home. The EPP Group therefore fully supports the announcement by the incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of the “one in, one out” principle for new legislation.
Finally, it’s time to put in place a binding procedure governing how the Parliament and the Council choose the next president of the European Commission, taking into account the results of the next European election in 2024. The EPP Group intends to put this item very high on the agenda of the planned conference on the future of Europe.
European citizens deserve the chance to choose the head of the executive — and not have its leadership determined through secretive power games behind closed doors.
I deeply believe that people will only really trust Europe the more closely we follow the Abraham Lincoln principle of an EU “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Only if Europeans know they are being heard will they feel like they belong to Europe, care about Europe, and engage with Europe.
Manfred Weber is the leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament.
Op-ed of Manfred Weber, published in „POLITICO“, on 26 November 2019