Tuesday, 23 July 2019 03:01 GMT

Macron shouldn't decide the EU's next leader

(MENAFN - The Peninsula) Leonid Bershidsky | Bloomberg

It's easy to see the current stalemate over who gets the European Union's top jobs as a battle between France and Germany. In reality, it's a conflict between institutions.

A group of EU leaders, headed by French President Emmanuel Macron, are trying to deny the recently elected European Parliament one of its key prerogatives. For the sake of the whole project's future, Macron's effort should fail.

The Franco-German storyline goes as follows. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her supporters believe it is time a German got one of the EU's plum positions, such as the presidency of the European Commission or the European Central Bank. Macron makes no secret of his belief that her candidates for both positions - Manfred Weber and Jens Weidmann - are weak. Weber, the lead candidate of the center-right European People's Party for the Commission post, is an uninspiring, status quo figure, while Bundesbank President Weidmann has been the stubborn thorn in the side of Mario Draghi, the current president of the ECB.

All this constitutes an "anti-German stance, according to Daniel Caspary, a member of the European Parliament and Merkel's own party.

It looks more like Macron just doesn't like the specific candidates Germany has put up. If his disagreement were with Merkel, it would be enough for the two of them to meet behind closed doors, hammer out a compromise - Berlin could, after all, propose plenty more candidates - and then work together to win the support of other EU leaders. They have done this before, on issues from digital taxes to pipeline regulations, and Germany has often got its way.

In fact, Merkel's chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, had already attempted to offer Macron a deal: If he backed Weber, Germany would support his idea of transnational party lists in the next European election. It didn't work, perhaps because the proposed payoff is too small and too far off.

Even though national leaders have more control over the running of the EU than its own centralized institutions, a better backroom deal still wouldn't be an acceptable solution. That's because the European Parliament, the only directly elected EU institution, is supposed to approve the national leaders' choice of Commission president. It will be tough to sell lawmakers on such a compromise.

In 2014, the European Council of national leaders allowed the parliament to play the lead role in the candidate selection process by adopting the Spitzenkandidat process - that is, by letting the assembly's majority pick the winning candidate. This was a response to criticism that the EU was undemocratic and an attempt to make elections to the European Parliament more relevant.

One could argue that it worked. The turnout in this year's election was the highest in 20 years, not just because more young voters backed a greener European agenda, but because of the high-profile campaigns by the lead candidates of the pan-European political parties.

The incoming members of the European Parliament have just won a tough election - one which Macron's party lost, coming second to Marine Le Pen's National Rally. It's hard to see how those lawmakers are going to accept the French president's attempt to have national leaders decide everything and present them with a fait accompli.

The institutional conflict is more important than the superficial Franco-German one because it won't be enough for Macron and Merkel to agree. It shouldn't be enough, either. The EU needs more democratic legitimacy. The European Parliament should play a decisive role in appointing the next Commission president; national leaders have enough power as it is - key appointments to the ECB, for example, are entirely up to them.

If parliamentarians are to play this decisive role, they need to act and decide on the shape of the centrist majority coalition. That agreement can then determine who the centrists' candidate for the top Commission job should be. 

So far, the EPP, the Socialists and Democrats, the liberals (somewhat disoriented by Macron's stance) and the Greens have stubbornly backed their own candidates rather than support a compromise. There's a reason for that: They have been distracted by the national leaders' attempt to derail the process. They should ignore that and try to come to a consensus, if only to show Europeans that they didn't waste their votes in the election.

Weber is unlikely to emerge as the compromise candidate, but it's not impossible that another candidate from the EPP could be chosen in his place. The other parties also have leverage - it will take at least three groups to achieve a working majority.

Once parliamentarians decide, the leaders of France and Germany will be able to go on and make their deals - on the ECB, the Council presidency, and the many other issues on which they priority. They have shown their ability to agree and to get other European leaders to back their decisions. The current controversy won't change that.


Macron shouldn't decide the EU's next leader


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