Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The European Parliament and European Commission after the May Elections: An Indispensable Partnership?

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The European Parliament and European Commission after the May Elections: An Indispensable Partnership?

Article excerpt

In November 2013 the Party of the European Socialists designated Martin Schulz, currently serving as President of the European Parliament (EP), as its lead candidate in the May 2014 European elections, and thus as its natural claimant to the post of European Commission president should it come out of the election as the dominant force. This sparked off a similar process of selecting top candidates by other political families. Just five months later, Jean-Claude Juncker, from the European People's Party, Guy Verhofstadt from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, ska keller and José Bové from the European green Party, and Alexis tsipras from the Party of the European Left were lined up as the Spitzenkandidaten (top candidates) heading their party families' electoral campaigns.

But it has also sparked vigorous discussions among commentators across the EU about the advisability of such a move.1 The nomination of top candidates by almost all of the mainstream political forces in the EP cuts down the room for manoeuvre for member governments to choose the next Commission head, and ostensibly brings the Commission into the next Parliament's ambit. Whilst its advocates perceive the idea of Spitzenkandidaten as a chance to boost political competition and thus increase voters' interest in these "second-order" elections,2 opponents often focus on unintended implications for governmental discretion, and fear that such a step would constitute a leash on the Commission, compromising its neutrality.

This article will clarify the debate on this personalisation of the elections.3 By placing the relationship between the European Parliament and Commission in a longer-term context, this article debunks the notion that personalisation marks a revolution in inter-institutional relations leading to the sudden politicisation of the Commission. Rather, it is just one in a long line of moves by the EP towards reinforcing its scrutiny of the Commission's actions. Moreover, this article argues that it is the undermining of the community method in the EU since the crisis broke out, coupled with the apparent shift of power and discretion towards national governments, that is pushing the European Commission into the arms of the EP. This is particularly clear in the EU economic and financial agenda, where the European Council has grown to take the predominant role in agenda-setting, traditionally the Commission's domain. Finally, this article presents some prospects for cooperation between the Commission and the Parliament.

After the European elections, the nature of the special relationship between Commission and Parliament is likely to be determined by the mode of governance preferred in the next legislative period. Should Member States continue to resort to differentiated integration platforms and test the principle of loyal cooperation, the more probable it is that that relationship will thicken. Furthermore, past experience suggests that the EP is likely to use the process of drafting the incoming Commission's five-year programme as a new means to assert its priorities in economic governance. Similar moves can be expected from the Member States. A Commission facing pressure from both sides might try to pivot away from the European Council and the EP (two traditional sources of its legitimacy), and upgrade its political dialogue with national parliaments.

One Article... Many Interpretations

In 2009, the Treaty of Lisbon (article 17.7 of the Treaty on the European Union) introduced the obligation for Member States to take into account the results of the European elections while nominating their candidate for the post of Commission president.4 Under these rules, which will be applied for the first time this year, a presidential candidate is to be nominated by the European Council by qualified-majority voting and proposed to the Parliament. The successful candidate will then be elected (no longer merely approved) by the European Parliament, echoing wording long used by the EP in its Rules of Procedure. …

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