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European Commission

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

Seizing the big day in 2014: A European parliamentary democracy in action

Union of European Federalists (UEF) Summer Reception /Brussels

3 September 2013

1. MAIN MESSAGES

In March this year, the Commission made a series of recommendations to strengthen the link between citizens and the EU, echoed by the European Parliament in the Duff Report.

But what happens the day after the elections take place? I believe this is a unique opportunity to develop and strengthen a true parliamentary system in our Union and thereby to give an answer to the two in three Europeans who currently think their voice does not count in the EU.

Declaration 11 to the Treaty of Lisbon foresees that prior to the decision of the European Council to propose a candidate for European Commission President, consultations be organised between the European Parliament and the European Council.

Immediately after the results are known, similar to national coalition talks, political leaders from the larger groups should meet the President of the European Council to start discussing names for potential candidates for European Commission President. The designate candidates should be proposed by the political group(s) holding the majority and be supported by the other main political group(s). This negotiation will then lead to a clear nomination of the European Commission President.

Just as America’s Constitution starts with the words “we the people”, our own journey towards a fully democratic federal Union must start with the people.

2. FULL SPEECH

Introduction

There are only 260 days left until the European elections. We, European politicians or more generally, we, the friends of a Federal Europe, have all pencilled in that week in May in our diaries. A lot has been done to prepare for the big day, and I will remind you in a minute the different recommendations that the Commission made in that respect, often echoed in the work done by the European Parliament under the impetus of my friend Andrew Duff. 260 days before the European elections, it is also time to think about the day after: how can a future Europe be shaped?

What has been done to prepare for the 2014 EP elections:

We have already dedicated a lot of effort to prepare for the next European Parliament elections. In March this year, the Commission made a series of recommendations to strengthen the link between citizens and the EU:

  • Before and during elections, national political parties should make clear to which European political party they are affiliated,

  • Member States should agree on a common day for the European elections,

  • Political parties should make known which candidate for President of the European Commission they support,

  • National parties should inform voters during the campaign about their candidate for President of the European Commission.

The “Duff Report” echoed many points from the Commission’s own recommendation on the subject.

But the question now is…

What happens the day after the elections?

Dear friends, I would like to share with you some ideas about what could happen the morning after the European Parliament elections results are published. That morning could become crucial in shaping our parliamentary democracy.

Imagine that same scenario in a country governed by a parliamentary regime: the morning after elections, political parties’ leaders count up the votes and look for coalition partners. Projects for governing programs are discussed; key positions are negotiated; names for Head of government are put forward. The Head of the State plays the role of the conciliator, the referee. When the process is developed enough, the Head of State proposes a candidate and after a vote of the newly elected Chamber, a new government takes office. This process has the merit of immediately and for the rest of the legislature translating the votes of the citizens into political terms: a coalition is defined, its political program published and designates for top jobs are made public. Voters can see that their vote counts and makes a difference.

Back in 2007, when the Intergovernmental Conference adopted the Treaty of Lisbon, a declaration was annexed to the Treaty, precisely on this topic: the day after the European Parliament elections. Declaration 11 foresees that prior to the decision of the European Council to propose a candidate for President of the European Commission, consultations be organised between the European Parliament and the European Council. Format, procedures, arrangements are left open to those who will live that moment. I believe this is a unique opportunity to develop and strengthen a true parliamentary system for our Union and thereby to give an answer to the two in three Europeans who currently think their voice does not count in the EU.

The European Parliament, as the citizens’ representation, needs to be at the centre of our system, exercising its democratic control over the EU Treaties. The executive power, the European Commission, will then not only be accountable to it but also supported in its actions by its majority. It would give more coherence to the political decisions taken by the European Union. In this construction, the Council of Ministers, representing the Member States, will act as the upper House (or Senate, or Bundesrat).

So what happens the day after the vote? Immediately after the results are known, political leaders from the largest groups should meet the President of the European Council to start discussing names for potential candidates for European Commission President. The designate candidates should be proposed by the political group(s) holding the majority and be supported by the other main political group(s). Only these would then be proposed to the European Council. President Van Rompuy will act as a “go-between” and consult back and forth between the two institutions. This negotiation will then lead to a clear nomination of the European Commission President. The President will be elected by the European Parliament through a vote and thus will receive democratic legitimacy. This process will not be held on the basis of obscure or unknown rules, but in full respect of the traditions of a parliamentary regime.

Conclusion

As federalists, we believe that only a “United States of Europe” would complete the project launched by the Founding Fathers in the aftermath of the Second World War. Just as America’s Constitution starts with the words “we the people”, our own journey towards a fully democratic federal Union must start with the people.

If the people are not by our side, us politicians and intellectuals, then our project is bound to fail. The next European Parliament elections are an opportunity to give our European Union a true parliamentary regime, where each citizen sees what their vote does and exercises democratic control over the executive. Only if European citizens realise that they are at the heart of our project, can we get to the next phase: a political federal Union. I am convinced that with some imagination and courage, the leaders of the European Parliament, of the Commission and President van Rompuy will be able to get this done. The time is ripe for parliamentary democracy at EU level.


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