We’re taking ideas from the Conference on the Future of Europe and putting them to policymakers and experts to react. Last week we looked at whether the EU should welcome an independent Scotland. Now we’re asking whether there should be a single EU President. Who do I Zoom if I want to speak to Europe?

Today’s idea comes from Ermanno, who thinks the EU risks confusing people and undermining itself geopolitically by having both a Commission President (Ursula von der Leyen) and a European Council President (Charles Michel):

Image of a citizen

“The recent ‘Sofagate‘ is just the last example of the weakness of European institutions on the geopolitical stage. Having so many presidents with overlapping competencies and indirect democratic legitimacy creates confusion among EU citizens, and it is easily exploited by our global competitors.”

He also think the EU President should be directly elected. Similar proposals for a directly elected single EU President have also been put forward on the Conference on the Future of Europe platform by Mathéo, Clemente, and Paraskevas.

Just this week, there has been confusion around whether the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (currently held by Slovenia) represents the EU on the global stage.

To get a response, we took Ermanno’s idea and put it to Assita Kanko, a Belgian MEP who sits with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament. Her party describes itself as “eurorealist”, and she was quite sceptical about Ermanno’s idea:

“Europe should have a strong and clear voice and project an image of unity. Whether this is through the tandem of the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission or though a single ‘European President’ is less important. Obviously, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen have not always succeeded here. Discussions on a single European President would require extensive reform of and long discussions of the EU institutions. Europe merits a focus on the needs of the citizens now.”

For a different perspective, we put the same idea to Andrew Duff, a former Liberal Democrat MEP and staunch European federalist. What did he think of Ermanno’s suggestion?

“Well, I think it’s a very good idea. In fact, I proposed it at the [Convention on the Future of Europe] in 2002-3, and we discussed it thoroughly then, and there was considerable support for it. But, of course, there was greater opposition to it, especially from the President of the Convention, Giscard d’Estaing, who saw the European Council as the supreme governor of the EU. And he had a very typically and classically French idea of presidency, which was fair enough, and he brought experience to the argument. But I think that in light of the experience of the Treaty of Lisbon and the creation of this permanent president of the council, one can now question if it provides the coherence and the clarity that government of the EU needs…

The powers of the executive in the EU are shared between the Commission and the European Council, and there are blurred. They are shared clumsily, if I may put it like that. And I don’t think that’s very democratic and it’s not actually very effective. I think that the Commission and council tread on each other’s toes too much now. In the old days when Van Rompuy, who is a very clever, experienced – Belgian, of course – compromiser, at a time of financial crisis, and the Commission was playing a subsidiary role, then it worked quite well. But if the two of them say the same thing in the same place all the time, then one can question if it’s duplication, which it is. If, however, they clash, then it does open up serious political and constitutional division at the centre of the Union and that’s not a good thing internally, and externally, for international Third Countries, then it looks extremely odd…”

Next up, we had a question from one of our readers, Otto, who says: “I like division of power. The last thing we need is more concentration of power in a single individual”.

What would Andrew Duff say to him?

“Well, I think that in a federal structure (or a structure that is striving to become federal) powers will fluctuate from time to time. And, sometimes, decentralisation of power is desirable and necessary. But I didn’t think that is the case this time, when I think the opposite is true: we need a concentration of power in Brussels to face up to the challenges we now have. Indeed, the response to the coronavirus economic crisis is precisely that: it is the launching of borrowing and lending at an unprecedented level. And I think that requires firm, clear, accountable government, which must come from the Commission.

So, respectfully, I don’t think that a return to theories about division of powers is sensible at this stage. The critical division of powers is between the judiciary and executive, and that is entrenched under the treaties. The sharing of power between the executive and the legislature, which we have in this rather blurred way, is important to make the thing political.”

Should there be a single EU President? Should the positions of Commission President and President of the European Council be merged? The Lisbon Treaty leaves open the possibility of a “double-hat” scenario; should the same person hold both functions? Should such a position be directly-elected? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – German Presidency of the Council of the EU 2020


61 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    This is and will be another fruitless attempt to cosmetically change a bureaucratic monster into a globally respectable political power.

    No superpower has yet negotiated directly with any EU President- be they one, ten or half a President. They are not empowered to make ‘deals’ but considered appointed bureaucrats & weak!

    Please, don’t wish away the importance of (some) of the ‘genuine’ 27 national EU member Chancellors, Presidents or Prime Ministers- which are always a first choice & stopover by any visiting head of any superstate. The EU bestows just its social charm, grand ideas & HR. Similar to a ceremonial sovereign.

    The EU system suffers from a comparative overkill in treaty bureaucracy, divided competencies, political diffusion which no powerful leader wishes to become entangled with!

    Such an attempt only highlights the desperation and headache the EU concept causes its political architects to give the impression of having full political power over a block of 27 Members.

    Rather stick to trade, technical standardization & R&D as originally contemplated.

    • avatar
      Ermanno Russo

      Typical eurosceptic garbage. According to them, the EU is only unelected bureaucrats. But when someone says: “ok, let’s elect them directly” it’s still not good enough: in this case, it’s cosmetic apparently! Unbelievable.

    • avatar
      EU Reform Proactive

      Hi Ermanno, congratulation to Italy having won the UEFA European Championship recently!

      I could imagine how deflating it would have been for the Italian team to have to sing- before & after winning- the “Ode Joy”- instead of the “Fratelli d’Italia”!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04ckV9QueXc

      Your uplifting Italian National Anthem is capable of pushing even a non-Italian heart rate & feel of happiness up a few notches! Without such rare inspiration, the opposing team might have been able to sing their “God save the Queen”- but definitely not the Ode Joy!

      What are for some believable options- are for others a singularly unbelievable one! That is the beauty of freedom to choose from a variety of garbage, thought & speech!

      Chiao!

    • avatar
      Ermanno Russo

      The Ode to Joy is not meant to replace national anthems, as the EU in not and was never meant to become a nation, but a voluntary federation of nations, unlike the UK, from which getting out is just a tiny bit harder (ask the Scots). National identities are there to stay in the EU, but nevertheless, if it wants to become a geopolitical actor, it needs a single president and a strong, fully legitimate executive power.

    • avatar
      EU Reform Proactive

      Hi Ermanno.

      I was not aware that I infringed on one of the many “New EU architects” budding ideas! My comment in this regard:

      • Any serious proposals to restructure the EU (however minute) has to take the route via your national party system and your national parliamentary structure first (if deemed to be acceptable to them) before it can seriously end up & reach the agenda on any EU level. Ref: EU Comitology:

      https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-making-process/adopting-eu-law/implementing-and-delegated-acts/comitology_en

      • To ignore this, exposes your & the DE’s supporting effort- (“we’ll take them to policymakers and experts”)- as an illegitimate attempt and shortcut (labelled political lobbying) to try to change the present EU structure. A long seated gripe with the EU.

      • Lobbyists do not determine EU law or treaty changes. Although they try to do so.

      • In short- whatever does not come along the present enacted EU legal pipeline remain private opinions. This is what we are expressing here & no need to get emotional!

      • Please try that one of your local Italian political parties takes up your EU restructuring idea. Once adopted it has to eventually make it into the Italian parliament first before it reaches EU level.

      • As long as the EU fails to feature prominently in global statistics (see below) – there is still a long way to go- be it one or three presidents!
      Sorry, Sofagate & embarrassments will continue.

      https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/research-insights/economy/the-world-in-2050.html

  2. avatar
    Adrian

    The three presidents (european commission, European council and the European parliament) don’t have legislative powers themselves and they lead different institutions which serve different functions. The EC acts as proponent, implementer of legislation and enforcement. The council of the European Union (with a rotating presidency) and the European parliament are the co-legislators and, unlike what experts on FB think, legislation is adopted by elected members. MEPs are elected directly by EU citizens and members of the council are the ministers, also elected through national elections. The European council steers the political priorities and is composed of the heads of states, also elected.

  3. avatar
    Giovanni

    La democrazia europea cresce insieme con il prevalere dello spirito comunitario sulle dinamiche intergovernative. Un passo importante in questa direzione verrebbe realizzato se la presidenza dell’organo comunitario (cioe’ la Commissione Europea) guidasse anche l’organo intergovernativo (cioe’ il Consiglio Europeo). Niente nei Trattati impedisce questo cumulo di incarichi. Gli Stati membri potrebbero quindi, al termine del mandato di Michel, chiedere a UVL di assumere temporaneamente anche quell’incarico. Come si sa bene, niente e’ destinato a durare tanto quanto il provvisorio. Se l’esperienza fosse positiva, il passaggio successivo – con modifica dei Trattati – dovrebbe essere l’elezione diretta del Presidente della Commissione Europea, contestualmente al rinnovo del Parlamento Europeo.

  4. avatar
    Anton

    I’d say this is the debate of direct vs indirect democracy. The system today is complicated, and citizens feel distance from it. At the same time, the current system gives everybody a voice (citizens in parliament, member states in the council, EU in the commission, and heads of government in the top council), and makes the institutions more able to compromise and actually get things done. What would happen if a single individual representing the whole of the EU, but had wildly different views on issues compared to parliament and national governments? Sure, the person would have a mandate, but parliament is still supposed to be closest to the citizens and a single president wouldn’t still be able to appoint their own commissioners. I like the idea in some ways (strong single voice), in others I think it would be dysfunctional.

  5. avatar
    Craig

    At the very the least the positions of Council and Commission president should be merged. The proliferation of presidents is very confusing to both citizens and foreign leaders (e.g. Obama was distinctly bored by all the interchangeable euro-leaders he had to meet).

  6. avatar
    Stefanos

    Angela Merkel would actually be the answer that’s closer to reality. The most important thing about decision-making within the EU is consensus at the European Council and the Council of ministers secondarily. Nothing goes forth unless a consensus (or a majority vote) is achieved at these two levels. The EU still functions as an Inter-governmental organization. You want to change that? Give more powers to the Parliament.

  7. avatar
    Apostolos

    When you would decide who exactly is, please inform us because the agony is big! 🤣

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      Ha, we don’t have any authority over the matter. 😉 What would you like to see?

    • avatar
      Apostolos

      no idea 🤷‍♂️ just tell us who is the real leader in Europe! That’s all!

  8. avatar
    Karel

    We, the people. Oh no, that is an utopia.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      What form of democracy would you like to see? Would you prefer a directly-elected “EU President”?

    • avatar
      Adrian

      it already is… Legislation is adopted by members of the European Parliament and the governments of members states ( council of the EU), all of them elected members. The presidents steer the priorities, work on compromises, negotiates with members, to try and facilitate a compromise. But they don’t have powers to adopt legislation unilaterally.

  9. avatar
    Peré

    Seeing as the council president is basically juist a secretary. Why not.

  10. avatar
    Giovanni

    Associazione Tutti Europa ventitrenta (www.TuttiEuropaventitrenta.eu ) has made a similar proposal on the Digital Platform of the Conference on the Future of Europe (ref. : cofe-PROP-2021-05-19640). Please support it.

  11. avatar
    Patrice-Emmanuel SCHMITZ

    The position of Andrew Duff is quite reasonable: having two heads, if they just have to say the same thing in the same place is useless duplication. If these two heads clash, it is odd… Having one head is not concentrating powers put clarifying the voice of Europe, because democracy is accountability. The real separation of of powers must stay between executive (at various proximity and subsidiarity levels), judiciary and legislative. Not in duplicating heads at the same level.

  12. avatar
    Bernard BOIGELOT

    Il y a aussi une fonction qui mérite d’être mise en avant : celle de haut représentant pour les affaires étrangères et la politique de sécurité. Comme pour toutes les fonctions, cela dépend aussi de la valeur du représentant : Federica Mogherini par exemple a accompli un excellent travail sous son mandat : elle était un interlocuteur de premier plan, reconnue et respectée qui a accompli de nombreuses choses et avait en son temps largement facilité l’accord avec l’Iran. Il faudrait donc envisager de cumuler ces 3 fonctions avec un représentant élu par le Parlement Européen, ce dernier étant élu au suffrage universel direct et donc le plus proche du peuple, ce dernier ayant un caractère supranational et n’étant pas soumis à la règle de l’unanimité.

  13. avatar
    George

    how many EU presidents are there now? a better question: “Should EC be elected by the people?” … EU was supposed to be a democracy after all, but those who make the decisions are not elected by the people.How is this possible?

    • avatar
      Uli

      George Thomson i dont think there is a real solution to this…decisions are done by the council, the closest each state has to representation and power. The parliament wont be accepted out of fear to be outnumbered by big states. But when we move away from unanimity, there needs to be a change towards more input democracy for sure…

  14. avatar
    Craig

    For Council and Commission yes.Would be interesting to have some studies on the workings of the Council before/after the introduction of its own presidency. Maybe the Council President helps grease the wheels of consensus. But seems redundant to be honest.The Parliament has its own mandate so makes sense to have a separate presidency (just like the head officer of any national parliament).

  15. avatar
    Yvonne

    im happy with the way it is now..it means that no one country has the entire rule of power..much better this way where everyone has to confere :D

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Yvonne O’Neill agree though without veto.

  16. avatar
    Γεώργιος

    Both are insignificant bureaucrats obeying orders of big business bosses

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Γεώργιος Δανιηλίδης aslong as it preserves the peace I can live with this single sided view of yours

    • avatar
      Γεώργιος

      Arnout Posthumus peace uber alles, of course

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Γεώργιος Δανιηλίδης yea because you are being gassed arent you? You just shown the playing field on which you think on. Thanks for thinking you have an opinion.You can always vote golden dawn no?

    • avatar
      Nacho

      Arnout Posthumus The “peace preserving argument “ is a bit outdated… That has nothing to do with this issue and cannot be used as a wildcard for everything. I am pro EU, however, I also think that it has turned into an immense bureaucratic machine, which I don’t like and I think it should be changed. We needed peace decades ago, but now we don’t have those problems anymore, so, in that regard, I don’t think EU can still use that argument over and over again… EU contributed to preserve peace, but it is not one of its functions nowadays.

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Nacho Ibh it is not outdated at all. If you think its outdated you should revisit what war means and how quickly things can turn. Yes, the EU also has problems, whom could have thought that? A: Its a democracy its flawed by default, we dont have a better system.B: 28 and in theory even more nations, trying to live together, ofcourse it wont be as anyone wants it to be.Can we now get over the obvious and atleast awnkowledge that we NEED the EU. Then we can decide what to improve.Its 100% how it funcions today, as its the same principles and rules that it was built on. If it would have been any different it might have collapsed or never seen the day of light. Its not easy getting so many nations together. It seems that even hitlers horrors where not enough alone. Yet we did move forward together, and that is a blessing in itself.

  17. avatar
    Крис

    Every 5 years when European elections take place 27 European countries send unknown people to Brussels on a 5-year holiday. This costs money. These money don’t fall from the sky. They come from the taxes of the EU citizens. I don’t want my taxes to go for another useless political position.

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Крис Караджов idd we pay it with love so we can live in peace .

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Katarina Muse peace isn’t criminal.

  18. avatar
    Paul

    What could ever be right when it’s run by punishers who take forever to make a decision and whose accounts are a shambles?

    • avatar
      Arnout

      Paul Bradley if it makes peace possible then yes

    • avatar
      Kimmo

      Paul Bradley – accounts a shambles?

    • avatar
      Paul

      Kimmo Linkama your quite right.

    • avatar
      Kimmo

      Paul Bradley – funny, I’m reading this is a myth busted a long time ago.

    • avatar
      Paul

      Kimmo Linkama yes, that’s why Brexit happened. The people of the UK saw through those running the EU and their federal aims, and therefore they got busted.

  19. avatar
    Enrico

    Siete un covo di serpenti. In Italia stiamo subendo una dittatura imposta da Draghi e voi voltate lo sguardo altrove. Brucerete all’inferno tra i vili affaristi con il vostro padrone Satana

  20. avatar
    Arnout

    I prefer multiple. But European elected not national.

  21. avatar
    Alfredo

    What’s the objective??? URSSEU??

  22. avatar
    Andrea

    There should be no european union to beging with.

  23. avatar
    giovanni brauzzi

    Yes, one single President. Nothing in the Treaties excludes the possibility of electing, as President of the European Council, the ongoing President of the European Commission. Furthermore, it is a decision that can be taken with qualified majority.

  24. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    How much executive power and how many resorts would one sole EU President have?

    It is quite interesting to read how a distinguished retired Italian diplomat interprets the 2003 (EU27) European Convention’s effort to draft an ambitious Treaty establishing a Constitution for “EUROPE” (CoE47?)- which was rejected in a 2005 referenda by 2 countries. Also referred to as the “Constitutional or Lisbon Treaty”.

    How comfortable & justified do some national politicians feel to accept & support the blurring of lines between national, supranational (EU) and the tweaking and inserting clauses into the failed (Lisbon) treaty text? Especially when the EU concept & Brussels is its sole beneficiary.

    Europe has become the EU’s political oyster.

    To be reminded again:

    “The process leading to the Treaty of Lisbon is a result of the negative outcome of two referenda on the Constitutional Treaty in May and June 2005. In response to which the European Council decided to have a two-year ‘period of reflection’.
    Finally, on the basis of the Berlin declaration of March 2007, the European Council between 21 to 23 June 2007 adopted a detailed mandate for a subsequent Intergovernmental Conference (IGC)”.

    This outcome was eventually signed by all members.

    It resulted in “more efficient and democratic policy-making” with new policies and new competencies” being “sneaked” in.

    Several so-called “passerelle clauses” allowed a change from unanimous decision-making to qualified majority voting. By now accepted as cast in stone, unchallenged and legally binding on all EU voters.

    The 1950 “Schuman aim (ECSC)” to merge economic interests (former ECSC) within the now expanded EU27- but still short of a Europe47- have greatly been achieved. That seems not enough for some.

    Seemingly, encouraged by a.m. progress much more is now considered achievable to “unite”= capture many more and eventually all remaining competencies still under national control- step by step- and bring it under central Brussels control.

    Over the last ~70 years all staunch Schuman followers (never mind considering all voters) their ambitions remain static: “seek solidarity by transferring political power- using any tool & lawyers finesse to tweak any (inconvenient) clause or EU “treaty law”- to achieve their objective. Some good others not.

    The original & narrow reasoning “it’s all for the sake of peace in Europe” is stale & outdated. The overall political challenge to cooperate has become bigger, a global issue and more complex.

    Why do we have a huge UN institution where global & “ambitious debates” could unfold?

    Is it because the EU has only observer status & only sovereign Nations are eligible as UN members?

    That rule- “fortunately”- cannot be tweaked by EU lawyers & their bureaucrats!

  25. avatar
    jthk

    There should not be a single EU president, EU is better under collective leadership of member states. Samuel Huntington’s research on the third wave democracies has proven that without the creation of a national identity, different faction would be tearing the new democracy apart in each election. Huntington cannot see this analysis is equally true when applying in the America, the Lighthouse of Democracy. When the American can be torn apart by democracy, elections have also given the America one crazy old Trump and another even more crazy Trump version 2.0 with a mask, everyone ought to reveal what election can be improved so as to avoid the disastrous outcome of the America. This is the end of democracy for what remains in democracy is just an election process without any essence of democracy equality, liberty, rule of law, fraternity, etc. left.

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