On 16 May the German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that the European Commission should develop into an EU government and that the Union needs a EU president (article by Honor Mahony on EU Observer available here). He believes that the Union needs a central government and a common finance policy in order to be more integrated. This would be made by wider citizen participation and the people shall elect the president of the European Commission, which shall develop into a new EU government. It is in the German minister’s view that the EU has a long-term responsibility to create an effective tool to deal with crises e.g. the eurozone crisis, with Greece as a central factor. The lesson that should be learned from this current crisis is that finance policies need to be harmonised.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also of the opinion that the EU should transfer more power from national level to its institutions, including the European Court of Justice. She said in January that more powers should be transferred to the EU and not more money to the bail-out fund (article by Valentina Pop on EU Observer available here). Merkel believes that we can only strengthen our common currency if the member states harmonise their financial policies and should gradually give up more power to the EU. She identifies a problem where member states can easily escape financial responsibilities without EU making sanctions because of the lack of tools to enforce compliance.
One can understand that this discussion has arisen because of a long financial crisis within the Union. At the basis of the German finance minister’s proposal is the economic crisis and the objective is to increase the EU’s capability to deal with it effectively. However, its implementation would have serious constitutional and institutional implications which go beyond economic considerations. So it is important to think further and to discuss how such a reform could or should be done from a constitutional aspect.
In order for the EU to create a presidential system it must change the very structure of the EU as an organisation. Such a change must be made in the Treaty, which requires the consent of all the member states. This can be problematic. The Constitutional Treaty was rejected because the member states feared that their sovereignty would have been limited. Even if all the member states would agree, still other problems remain. Who should be able to become a candidate? Former heads of state? Politicians? Lawyers? Bureaucrats? The Commission today consists of unelected representatives and numerous bureaucrats. Shall the members of the Commission be elected as well? Can one believe that the member states will be able to agree upon these questions?
An agreement must be reached between the different member states on financial policies that need to be more harmonised in order to prevent economic crises in the future. Harmonisation has proved to be successfully effective in areas where problems need to be solved through a more uniform legislation. However, the best solution might not be to create an EU government with an EU President as the German finance minister suggested. The fact that one can never be neutral, since everyone has the nationality of one of the member states, is problematic. A solution could be to have a system where the office of the President rotates among the member states. The Commission today consists of bureaucrats, therefore it seems logical that a president of the Commission should also be a bureaucrat. On the other hand, Germany has suggested that the EU President should be elected by the citizens. Consequently, the President cannot be a bureaucrat but a politician. Three options occur for the Commission: it could be elected by the citizens, appointed by the President, or the existing appointment system can remain.
Schaeuble suggests that the ECJ should be given more power in the field of financial policy in order to impose sanctions, as this would be more efficient in solving financial problems. The possibility that the EU makes promises that it is not able to fulfil is a potential risk for a future crisis, as Angela Merkel claims, and the Union must be able to assure enforcement in order to ensure compliance.
It is not likely that the member states will come to an agreement due to the problems identified above. It is also unlikely that they will agree upon the transformation of the Commission into a government. It seems clear that the member states are not yet ready to limit their sovereignty to that extent. This was the reason why the Constitutional Treaty failed. It is unrealistic to believe that the member states are ready to give power to an EU government and an EU President. A more logical solution is to start with a harmonisation of the member states’ financial policies and to extend the ECJ’s jurisdiction.
Amelie Edgren, Stina Haglund, Lina Olsson