It is the process, stupid!
Speculation is rife about the career plans of Von der Leyen: will she or won't she run for a second term as Commission President? While this is a nice parlour game during cold winter nights, it is the wrong question. The future of Ursula is not equal to the future of Europe. The future of Europe will not be decided by who is chosen, but how the Commission President is chosen. In other words: the process, not the person matters. Behind the modern day investiture controversy hides a fundamental question about the nature of the European Union: is it a mere cooperation between national governments, or a supranational democratic entity. The answer is dictated not by ideology, but by the need for the Union to be able to meet the challenges of today's world in an effective and democratic way.
Europe has been in urgent need of radical reform for many years, well before there was talk of enlargement with Ukraine. But government leaders have absolutely no appetite for reforms that will make supranational, democratic Europe stronger, so for two decades now they cling to the completely dysfunctional intergovernmental model. For those who still thought everything is going just swell, the clusterfuck around the EU response to the Israel - Hamas question must have opened their eyes.The time for babystep reforms is over, a big leap is needed. To quote a famous Dutch politician, Hans van Mierlo: "We have to make the revolution before it breaks out". If we lack the courage, the price for our cowardice will be high.
Since the Lisbon Treaty, the EUCO has been engaged in a slow but steady power grab, the European Commission has been reduced to a servant of the national governments, and the European Parliament is forsaking its role as democratic watchdog. While the façade is still standing, the engine of the European Union is grinding to a halt. The essence of institutional change is re-setting the power balance between the institutions, in particular restoring the independence of the European Commission, as well as ensuring its full accountability to the European Parliament. A key step in that direction is to reduce the size of the European Commission, as foreseen in the Treaty of Lisbon. German Foreign Minister Baerbock is absolutely right to put this on the agenda.
The second absolutely vital step is for the European Parliament to stick to the "Spitzenkandidat" in 2024. It is crucial for Parliament to re-affirm its prerogative in the appointment of the leader of the powerful EU institution. The Spitzenkandidat is not about the qualities of individual candidates, but about the power balance between the three main EU institutions: Parliament, Commission and European Council. In 2019 Parliament voluntarily gave up its powers in the appointment process. It paid a high price and it was severely, maybe fatally weakened. Parliament has to support the candidate of the largest group after the elections, or form an alternative majority behind one of the other candidates. But in no circumstance should Parliament again leave the choice of the EC President exclusively to the European Council, nor should it accept any nominations of persons who were not presented to the public as Spitzenkandidat before the elections. The European Parliament should also use the process to extract some meaningful - written - commitments from the candidate EC President, ensuring accountability to Parliament. For example a proper, non scripted, monthly Question Hour, the dismissal of individual Commissioners at the request of Parliament and an unconditional commitment to follow up on Parliament calls for legislative proposals. Moreover, Parliament should foresee a "refresher" confirmation vote at mid-term, to keep leverage even after the inauguration of the Commission President.
The EU candidacy of Ukraine has put the accelerator on the process of EU institutional reform. As the talks on Treaty change are getting under way, Parliament has to assert it
Proposals for “multi-speed Europe”, “Europe à la carte” or “Concentric circles of membership” are all code language for “avoiding real reform like the plague”. Accession of Ukraine and a number of smaller countries would expose mercilessly what is already painfully clear to anyone who wants to see it: intergovernmental Europe is as dead as Monty Python’s parrot. While some governments argue that Ukraine may not be ready, in reality it is the reluctance of current EU members that is an obstacle. Government leaders want to retain their power, like little kings. And some countries will do anything to resist the long overdue reform of the agriculture policy.
As the talks on Treaty change are coming closer, Parliament has to weigh in. Not with pie-in-tje-sky resolutions and demands for more powers, but by fully using the powers it has today. New powers and a new power balance between the institutions are not offered on a silver plate. Only supranational Europe is capable of meeting the challenges. But government leaders will keep Europe as weak and intergovernmental as possible. It is the duty of the European Parliament to stand up for a strong and democratic Europe, capable to ensure security, prosperity and freedom to its people.