The dream of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker of a more citizen-friendly EU was on display at the Berlaymont this week as Juncker offered his proposals on overhauling the bloc ahead of an informal EU-wide summit on February 23.
“I would like to see to it that we have a bicameral system in Europe sometime in the foreseeable future,” Juncker said, adding that this should consist of a Council of Member States and the European Parliament.
Juncker seems eager to introduce more change to the EU’s institutions, Even if for the upcoming elections the European Commission foresees to maintain the system of Spitzenkandidaten, or party-list leader, that debuted in 2014. Juncker is well-aware of the limited reforming capacity of the European Parliament after the European People’s Party (EPP) – the political group that put him forward as a candidate – voted down the creation of a transnational list of European Parliamentarians during a plenary session in Strasbourg last week.
Requesting that the political parties of the bloc immediately put forward a list of possible candidates for the presidency of the European Commission, Juncker said that an earlier widening of the field of potential the contenders for the presidency would enrich the overall Εurorean debate ahead of the election campaign.
“I have struggled with this more than many people think, I was a test case and it was a difficult phase,” said Juncker, underlining that the short timeframe “makes it difficult to get people on board”. In 2014, European political parties selected their candidates relatively late in the process, leaving only a few weeks for them to campaign and create a profile across the bloc.
“Choosing the lead candidates earlier than last time, ideally by the end of 2018 – with an earlier start to the campaign – would give voters more opportunity to identify the candidates and the political programmes they stand for,” said Juncker.
“All of those running for the European Parliament have to declare well before the European elections which group they belong to in case they are elected,” Juncker said. “
Among those who have yet to declare their official affiliation is France’s centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who still hasn’t officially stated which European political family his party is aligned with.
Juncker also challenged the heads of state and government ahead of the informal summit to determine whether they would like to maintain a European Commissioner for each member state. If one Commissioner is to be maintained for each member of the bloc, organisational adjustments will again be required to ensure accountability, unity. and efficiency.
Juncker’s own Commission has chosen several Vice-Presidents responsible for cross-cutting project teams in different policy fields, including a First Vice-President and High Representative/Vice-President, a structure that “has shown its worth and could be further enhanced in the future,” according to Juncker’s office.
Transnational constituency could be back on the table
Juncker did not fail to openly criticise the vote against the transnational list on behalf of the EPP. Refraining from commenting on the “lack of appetite for European reform,” Juncker referencSeptembertermber 2017 State of the Union address when he first brought up the possibility of a transnational list and an EU wide constituency.
“The EPP did not follow my proposal, I can’t but regret that decision,” said Juncker on Wednesday, suggesting that the anti-European extreme right is moving its policy platforms closer to the EPP’s, a move that Juncker is firmly against and one that forces him to feel further isolated from the party he currently leads, saying he performs his duties as Commission President in the capacity of representing the whole of Europe’s political spectrum, not as one who specifically acts in the interests of the EPP.
After the proposal on transnational lists was rejected by the European Parliament, Macron still hopes to put the issue back on the table, an idea that Juncker would support, but one that Juncker says could not be implemented over the course of the next year.
“After the EU Parliament’s vote I cannot see how this could be done for 2019,” said the European Commission president.