Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


An Elected President for the European Union

The position of the President of the European Commission is largely comparable to that of a national head of government, if one ignores that, in contrast to the British Prime Minister or the German Chancellor, he or she can, at best, only informally influence the composition of the government. As primus inter pares, the President is largely entrusted with executive tasks. The present European institutional structures do not have a special political office for the purely representative functions, as exercised by the German President, for example. However, in the institutional reform, establishing such an office for the European President would make a great deal of sense. The European President would primarily have a symbolic, integrating function. He or she would represent the Union to the world and could play an important political role as an internal arbitrator and intermediary between different member states or between individual member states and the European institutions.

This would further stimulate the integration process in an expanded Europe. Additionally, in the long run an important secondary effect could be connected with the establishment of such an office, if political incentives were correspondingly determined: namely, the creation of a European political party system. For this to occur, first of all, it is crucial that the European President be elected by the European Parliament. The member states would hardly accept such a procedure for selecting the President of the Commission, who has a very influential political position. But the direct election of a President of the European Union, who would primarily have representative rather than executive functions, could serve as a lever to set competition among European political parties in motion. It would provide an incentive for the development of parties active throughout Europe (for instance, from the presently existing parties in the European Parliament), which would have to co-operate in choosing common election candidates for the Presidential office. European elections would thus no longer be determined by competition between national parties, but by the election campaign of the European party alliance.

It cannot be expected that a functional European political party system be developed overnight. But developing one is of crucial importance for European integration. To deal with the lack of democratic legitimation in Europe, functional institutions are needed to aggregate, articulate, and integrate political interests. So in the long run, it is well conceivable that the Commission will be elected by the European Parliament. The European political party system is crucial for the democratisation of the Union. In reforming the existing institutional structures, promoting the development of such a party system should thus be a central concern.



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