The idea that European elections should be uplifted from their status as secondary elections by means of actual European campaigns has been floating around quite a while, and for all we know we are supposed to get candidates for the next President of the Commission campaigning for our votes for their family of parties. This makes sense, as the Lisbon Treaty defines that the European Parliament does no longer just approve the Commission President, but elects him, meaning he will likely be provided by the largest parliamentary group. This makes him just as democratically legitimised as the head of government of many member states. This includes for example the German chancellor.
Strangely, today I had to read that Chancellor Merkel does not approve of the process analogous to the one that got her elected two (soon to be three) times.
Instead she wishes to keep the old process of predetermining the designated Commission president among member states and behind closed doors, with parliament merely rubber stamping their choice. She effectively tells the European citizens that their vote does not matter when it comes to the Commission President.
I am probably not the only one who considers this ludicrous and unacceptable. (Though I was shocked to see EUObserver had to ask someone from ECFR to get an opposing comment – this isn’t even a foreign relations issue and the EP’s press office should be all over this)
In a time when approval ratings for the EU are at an historic low with the actual and, even more so, the perceived democratic deficit being a main reason, when anti-integration populists are doing well in the polls in several member states and Merkel herself is popularly depicted as an illegitimate European hegemon in many EU member states, she tries to turn back democratic progress.
I sincerely hope that the other European families of parties will draw the right conclusions from this – meaning that they should come out with their candidates now and put them in the spotlight of media attention. I am aware that some candidates have already been determined by the parties, but the majority of voters is not. The candidates should be out there campaigning, giving interviews, staging public debates and in the course of that make clear that the outcome of the EP elections is absolutely tied to the next Commission President. If Merkel still convinces the other EPP members that they alone won’t be answering the voters’ questions about the next Commission President, that’s their call (and, by then, a strategically bad one). And yes, this is in part also a task for the media themselves, as much as it is for the political parties of Europe.
The (albeit slow) wheel of democratic progress in the EU has to be turned further forward, not backward. And discouraging people to vote in elections that already struggle with low turnout by telling them that it’s going to be turned back is politically negligent, not to speak of actually acting on that idea.