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A New EU Election Process?

26 Aug 2010


The failure of the European left to agree on a candidate to oppose José Manuel Barroso’s re-appointment as Commission President last year was not the best advertisement for democracy in the European Union.
A campaign is now underway by activists of the Party of European Socialists to ensure that next time there is not just a candidate, but a real debate.
Instigated by Desmond O’Toole (Ireland) and José Reis dos Santos (Portugal), the Campaign for a PES Primary argues that candidates for the position should be selected by means of American-style party primaries. The campaign's immediate goal is to set up such a system within the PES, in the hope that this would pressure other European political groups to follow suit.
This is an interesting proposition. An effect of the Lisbon Treaty is that the Council must appoint the Commission President “taking into account” European Parliament election results (TEU Article 17.7). If all the major groupings could agree to nominate their candidates in advance then the Council would find it extremely difficult not to appoint the candidate of the group which won the most seats. This means that at European elections voters would be asked to choose not just between their local MEPs or typically bland manifestos, but also between high-profile personalities competing for the Commission Presidency.
This sort of increased friction and visibility is precisely the type of thing that advocates of the European project (such as Simon Hix and Jurgen Habermas) have long supported. The idea also has the advantage of not requiring treaty change (in contrast to similar proposals, such as a directly elected Commission President).
Were it to work, it could give a much-needed boost to European Parliament elections as well as enhance the authority and legitimacy of the Commission and its policies.
At the moment this is still very much a grassroots campaign. It lacks endorsement from the PES or its constituent parties (the activists hope to make their case at the PES Council in Warsaw in December) and the technical obstacles to implementation should not be underestimated. But the idea has been steadily gaining traction online. At a time of widespread disenchantment with European politics, this initiative could yet make a big splash in Brussels.
Further commentary and debate: Euractiv / EUObserver / Jason O’Mahoney (see comments) / Jon Worth / Ralf Grahn


As an independent forum, the Institute does not express any opinions of its own. The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author.


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Desmond O'Toole says: 30 Aug 2010 11:40

Thanks to the IIEA for your comments on the Campaign for a PES Primary. We have just secured our 1,000th supporter for our Facebook Campaign page and are now being published in the European media. This is an idea whose time has come and which, along with the Citizens Initiative, offers the most practical way of extending democracy and citizen engagement in the European Union. Elections do matter and with a democractically selected PES candidate for Commission President in 2014 we will demonstrate that who we vote for in European elections can make a difference. Regards ... Desmond. Desmond O'Toole PES activists Dublin Campaign for a PES Primary

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