Political parties must nominate European Commission president
by Wilfried Martens
Let us seize the moment to create a genuine European public space - the EU will never succeed if it does not become a truly democratic union – writes European People's Party president
Last month, during his annual State of the European Union speech, European Commission President JosÚ Manuel Barroso made a historic call to all political parties to present their candidates for the post of commission president ahead of the 2014 elections. This is a major step forward, opening the European Union up to greater democratic scrutiny and involving voters in key decisions such as who will lead the executive arm of the EU between 2014 and 2019.
The European People's Party has always strived to lead the way forward in reducing the democratic deficit. For each direct election of the European Parliament, we proposed thorough and comprehensive electoral programmes. Barroso's call has particular political significance when one remembers that he was the first-ever candidate for commission president to be nominated by the EPP, the winning party from both the 2004 and 2009 elections.
In 2004, we openly urged all European political parties to follow the spirit of the then yet-to-be-ratified 'constitutional treaty', which stipulated that the nomination of the commission president should take into account the result of the European elections. When the EPP won the elections and was ready to put forward its candidate, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schr÷der and French President Jacques Chirac chose to ignore the spirit of the constitutional treaty - and the election result. Thankfully their proposal, Guy Verhofstadt, fell on deaf ears and our candidate JosÚ Manuel Barroso was nominated by the European Council. He was later confirmed by the European Parliament.
In 2009, we again made a public commitment to follow the spirit of the subsequent yet-to-be-ratified Lisbon Treaty, which included the same provision for nominating the commission president. We endorsed the incumbent president Barroso many months ahead of the June 2009 elections. And we challenged the other European political parties to put forward their own presidential candidates. Sadly, they did not do so - denying voters across Europe the chance to take part in deciding who should run the commission. Instead, during the election campaign, the Party of European Socialists and the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party launched endless vitriolic attacks against Barroso without offering their own presidential alternatives.
When the EPP won the elections - and Barroso was subsequently confirmed by the European Council - the PES, the ELDR and their respective political groups in the European Parliament sought to complicate President Barroso's confirmation process. This was a publicity stunt designed to save face after the PES and the ELDR had failed to let Europe's electorate have a clear choice. Now, as we prepare for the 2014 elections, I am pleased to see that at least the PES has finally made a commitment to put forward a presidential candidate. I sincerely hope that the other European political parties will follow suit.
Our voters deserve to be allowed to choose who they want to run the commission. Nevertheless, I am concerned with the ethos that the PES is displaying at the start of this process. For example, instead of welcoming the commission president's call, PES President Sergei Stanishev launched a personal attack against him with ridiculous jibes - accusing Barroso of making a "disingenuous claim to the ownership of this idea" and that he "looted our idea". The 2014 election campaign must foster the right political ethos in order, first and foremost, to be credible to the electorate. We should avoid taking cheap shots at each other.
The campaign, which will be spearheaded by the political parties' presidential candidates, must offer real political alternatives, positive ideas and concrete programmes. We need to trigger an open pan-European political debate that reaches out to and actively involves our citizens across the European Union. We are starting the process by focusing on ideas at our congress in Bucharest later this month. This will be followed by the establishment of an open, transparent and competitive process for selecting our presidential candidate.
Let us seize the moment to create a genuine European public space. The EU will never succeed if it does not become a truly democratic union. In the words of President Barroso: "Europe cannot be technocratic, bureaucratic or diplomatic; it has to be ever more democratic."
Wilfried Martens is a former prime minister of Belgium and is now president of the European People's Party
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