How many presidents does it take to fix a sovereign debt crisis? If the answer is “loads”, then the EU should be doing well. The European Union has, since its birth as the European Coal and Steel Community, developed a confusing love-affair with the title of ‘President’. There’s the President of the European Parliament; the President of the European Council; the President of the European Commission and, still hanging on for dear life since the passing of the Lisbon treaty, the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Is there such a thing as too many presidents?
A little while ago, Debating Europe looked at a suggestion from Craig Willy that the positions of President of the European Commission and President of the European Council should be merged into one. This is also a proposal that was floated by Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier earlier this year. We took this idea to Ernst Stetter, Secretary General of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), for his reaction:
I fully agree with that, and one can also say that within the boundaries of the Lisbon treaty this is something that would be possible. It’s nowhere stated that the President of the Commission and the Council should be two separate people. It would be good if this position could be elected, possibly occupied by a personality known all over Europe. FEPS is arguing for this. But this is a political question. This is a question for Europe’s conservatives. They now have two conservatives in the top spots. A Europe with a strong personality is a much stronger Europe. And this is what the conservatives do not want to see.
We asked Mikołaj Dowgielewic, Poland’s EU Minister, to offer his own thoughts from the perspective of a member-state government (and a conservative member-state government to boot).
There are pros and cons. From a purely legal point of view, it is possible – apart from some problems that would be caused by the fact the Council President is accountable to the European Parliament, because they have different roles when it comes to accountability. Basically, the President of the Commission has to be endorsed by the Parliament and the President of the Commission doesn’t. But, apart from the legal issues, I think maybe in the future we’ll come to some sort of solution. On the other hand: the Commission has to be independent, it has a special treaty role, so we should also be a bit cautious about politicising it.
What do YOU think? Is the current situation too confusing? Do people know “who to call” when they want to speak to Europe? Or would merging the Council and Commission Presidents set us on a slippery slope? Let us know your thoughts in the form below.