The popular election of the European Commission
Today the European Commission is appointed through complex negotiations among national governments on the one hand and parties represented in the European Parliament on the other. This process lacks transparency and is too elitist for citizens' influence to be truly felt.
The so-called Spitzenkandidat system, in which each European party nominates a candidate for the post of President of the European Commission, failed to democratise the procedure. Jean-Claude Juncker was selected in 2014 because of his ability to gather support from conservative heads of governments and party leaders, not because of his popularity with citizens.
A directly elected Commission would possess a genuine European popular mandate. It would include in its proposals to the Council and Parliament a programme for which it could be held directly accountable to voters. This reform would respond clearly to the democratic deficit often brought against the EU (‘unelected Commission’, ‘Brussels imposes this on us’ etc.).
It would also provide a productive channel for citizens’ discontent. When citizens are dissatisfied with national policies, they seek to change government, not to abolish the nation-state. However, without similar power over EU policies, dissatisfied citizens can only resort to seeking the dissolution of the EU. The direct election of the Commission would allow citizens a more constructive means of criticism – building an alternative majority.
The full college of 27 Commissioners (one per country) would be elected through general ticket representation. The list that comes first would be elected en bloc. Electing a team, rather than a single individual, would help to avoid an over-personalization of power. It would also reinforce the collegial nature of the Commission, which adopts its decisions by general agreement.
This solution would require transparency on the choice of future Commissioners during the election campaign. Even at a national level, the appointment of ministers is often a very elitist process; after voting, citizens are reduced to passive bystanders as they watch of the rise of personalities they may neither know nor approve of. This solution would also simplify the electoral campaign since each list would have a candidate from each Member State, who could act as a national spokesperson.
The election would go through an electoral college in which each Member State would have a minimum number of votes. This would prevent the democratisation of the Commission from being perceived as benefiting only the ‘big’ Member States. It would also ensure that States with traditionally high participation rates (e.g. Belgium, where voting is compulsory) are not over-represented compared to others. In practice, citizens would vote on the distribution of their Member State’s votes among the candidate lists.