Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Electing a European president

Textbooks and critics talk about the "democratic deficit" in the EU. Even though people elect members of the European Parliament, the EU is far from a democratic institution. Now comes the proposal to elect the EU president. Will that help diminish the deficiency?

Mixed Reviews for German Call to Elect EU Prez
The European Union is often derided for being run by faceless bureaucrats. Germany's ruling party thinks it has a solution: a direct vote to pick the face that runs the union…

"We want the European Union to get a face," the Christian Democratic Union said in a resolution. "Therefore the President of the European Commission should in the future be directly elected by all of the Union's citizens."

The CDU is the leading party in Germany's ruling coalition, and Germany is one of the EU's most powerful countries. Still, its vocal backing for direct elections doesn't necessarily mean they will happen: That would involve a treaty change and the consent of all 27 EU countries.

But its an idea that if embraced could help overcome one of the most persistent criticisms of the EU.

The common perception is that EU citizens feel disconnected from the union's headquarters in Brussels, that few of them can name their members of the European Parliament, and that many feel that EU regulations issue forth from anonymous bureaucrats who've never dwelt among the people they're regulating…

The proposal turns out already to have won some support from none other than European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso himself, who declared in a YouTube interview in October that he would be "delighted" if the commission president were to be elected directly one day.

Electing Barroso involved a cumbersome process that for many symbolizes the EU's bureaucratic red tape and lack of direct democratic participation. The president is nominated by the 27 EU heads of government, then questioned by the European Parliament, which must approve the candidacy by a two-thirds majority.

The president is responsible for assigning posts to the various commissioners who have been nominated by national governments. He or she also determines the commission's agenda and supervises the legislative proposals it produces, which must then go to heads of government and to the parliament…

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