Author: Mehreen Khan, Jim Brunsden and Alex Barker
Posted on: Financial Times | February 13th, 2018
Jean-Claude Juncker is set to confront EU member states by asking them not to scrap the election system used to bring him to power as European Commission president, arguing instead for improvements to bolster support for democracy across the bloc. The so-called lead candidate, or “Spitzenkandidat”, system links the appointment of the commission’s president to the result of European parliamentary elections.
Used for the first time in 2014, it led to Mr Juncker’s winning the job despite the vehement objections of David Cameron, the then UK prime minister, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Many EU leaders — even advocates of more EU democratic reform, such as France’s president Emmanuel Macron — remain wary of using the process to fill one of the EU’s most powerful posts. They fear they will lose control of appointing Mr Juncker’s successor next year.
However, the European Parliament says the Spitzenkandidat system must be retained. Mr Juncker will on Wednesday side with the parliament by presenting plans, seen by the Financial Times, to develop the system further. The proposals are an attempt to influence EU leaders before they discuss the issue at a summit next week. Mr Juncker will say the approach has “raised the profile of pan-European electoral campaigns” and helped to stem declining voter turnout at EU elections. The commission suggests that the process of choosing a candidate could be improved by earlier nominations, potentially after primaries; longer campaigns; and the requirement to broadcast election debates in every EU member state.
Separately, Mr Juncker will also initiate a sensitive debate over the EU’s next multiannual budget, including ways that governments can plug a hole of up to €13bn a year once the UK stops contributing to the bloc’s common pot after Brexit. Brussels will use next week’s summit to lay out options to boost the EU’s own money-raising powers. They include the idea of giving the EU budget a share of corporate tax receipts, which Brussels estimates will raise anywhere between €21bn and €140bn over the seven years from 2021.
The commission also calculates the cost of various EU spending projects, such as boosting border external border controls and funding for the Erasmus student exchange scheme. The figures are an attempt to help member states decide what spending is a priority — and what is not — as Britain, one of Europe’s biggest net contributors, leaves the bloc. The paper on the EU elections and institutional reform reflects Brussels’ desperation to boost interest in European Parliament elections.
Turnout has declined consistently since the first polls in 1979, and in 2014 was only 42.6 per cent. However, some EU member states fear that the Spitzenkandidat system will entrench the power of the European Parliament’s established political groups. Mr Macron, whose République En Marche movement is not yet a part of any of Europe’s main political families, has proposed his own set of reforms to bring the EU institutions closer to voters. The commission paper is lukewarm about some of Mr Macron’s ideas, such as electing some MEPs on pan-European electoral lists to represent voters across the EU.
The document is also cautious about another Mr Macron-led proposal that EU countries should take it in turns not to have a European commissioner in Brussels, a long-discussed step intended to simplify the division of responsibilities in the institution. Mr Juncker is also fighting to keep alive plans he set out last September to create one EU president who would preside over Brussels’ main institutions.
The idea, which Mr Juncker said would give Europe “one captain” at the helm, has almost no support from national governments, which argue that it would create confusion over roles and is not envisaged in the bloc’s treaties. Having one person serve as commission and council president would boost efficiency, and prevent “Brussels” being blamed for decisions actually taken by national politicians, the document says.