“Although I am not free of dreams, I am not a dreamer” said Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his address at this week’s press conference (14.2.2018), during which he presented the new Commission Communication “A Europe that delivers” on the institutional work of the EU. This statement also outlines the proposed reforms: these are mainly limited to developing the lead candidate system, which was for the first time applied in the European Elections 2014. Even though further reforms, such as transnational electoral lists or a dual Presidency of Commission and European Council are outlined as visions; it has become clear that those cannot be realised before the Parliament Elections 2019.
As a long-term perspective, Juncker once again names the expansion of the EU to a genuine two-chamber system with European Council and EU Parliament. As he already stated in his State of the European Union address in September 2017, he supports the merger of positions of Commission President with that of the European Council. However, Juncker immediately pointed out that such steps would not be realisable during his “life time as EU Commission President”.
Expansion of lead candidate system
Currently, the Commission is focussing on maintaining and improving the lead candidate system of the 2014 Europe Elections. In contrast to the demands of some Member States in the Council, above all France under Emanuel Macron, to turn away from this system, from the Commission's point of view the model had in general proven successful. The EU Parliament too had supported in the previous week the idea of maintaining the lead candidate process.
In order to improve the current system, the Commission supports an early nomination of the lead candidates (by the end of 2018) and an early start of the election campaign. Experiences concerning the 2014 elections had shown that candidates only had a few weeks to present themselves in all Member States. Debates featuring the lead candidates should be shown on all public channels. For example during the 2014 election campaign, TV debates with the candidates had only taken place in a few countries, among them Austria. Apart from that, the links between national and European parties should be significantly improved, for example by printing relevant information on election campaign material. However, looking at the Member States in the Council, the Commission indicates that there is still no automatism according to which the winner of the election would automatically become Commission President.
Against the background of Brexit, the European Council must now decide what to do with the seats so far held by the United Kingdom. One option would be to reserve the vacated mandates for transnational electoral lists. The EU Parliament had recently voted in favour of leaving 46 of the current 73 British seats vacant from May 2019; in doing so it had come out against filling parliamentary seats based on transnational lists. However, cross-faction in the EU Parliament, as well as among Member States, there are still supporters of the transnational electoral list project, who regard the proposal as an important approach towards the democratisation and Europeanisation of EU elections.
Commission President Juncker too expressed some sympathy for reserving the vacant seats for transnational electoral lists; however, – referring to the vote in the EU Parliament – from the point of view of the Commission, such an approach would not be realistic for the 2019 elections.
Composition of the Commission
Before the next Commission takes up its responsibilities, the European Council has to decide whether the Commission should continue to have one member per Member State or whether it should be downsized. Here, the Commission Communication underlines the reform steps, which have already been taken by the Juncker Commission in form of structuring project teams and policy fields, assigned to Vice Presidents.
A downsizing of the Commission would enable more efficient work and a more balanced allocation of the dossiers, so the assessment delivered by the Commission President delivers in his speech. However, the significance of “own” Commissioners for each Member State should not be underestimated. Hence, the Commission puts the decision, whether the number of Commissioners should be reduced, back in the corner of the European Council, without declaring a clear preference.
Finally, the Commission will enforce Citizens’ Dialogues in the Member States: since 2012 almost 500 of such dialogues have taken place; 500 additional dialogues are planned until the EU Elections.