After the nominations of the top EU leaders’ positions, our director, Tanya Cox, shares her first thoughts on what it would mean for the future of Europe and beyond.
Director at CONCORD Europe
I took the weekend to reflect on EU leaders’ nominations for the top four jobs in the European institutions – and especially the three which most relate to CONCORD’s work, namely the Presidents of the Council and the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. I have to admit that I was taken very much by surprise, particularly by the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen as possible President of the European Commission. And yet another Belgian to lead the Council? I wasn’t too sure whether I felt as though the rug had been pulled from under my feet, or as though the wind had been taken out of my sails. But either way, I wasn’t entirely filled with confidence.
With the weekend past, my surprise has turned to bemusement. It would be wonderful to celebrate the first female Commission President. It’s about time, after all, that the Commission be headed by a strong and visionary woman. CONCORD has been calling for this over the course of the last year. But the unfortunate fact is that these nominations are the result of horse-trading and backroom deals. And one rarely ends up with the strongest candidates in those instances. Old habits clearly die hard in the EU … and democracy only goes so far. This is a shame – and not only for the European Parliament and the spitzenkandidaten themselves. But just as the EU’s interests trump their values when it comes to trade deals, so politics trump democracy when faced with a result which doesn’t please. Put that together with the undue influence of certain Member States and the result is less than overwhelming. For example, how can it be that a candidate for Commission President is refused on the grounds of paying too much attention to the rule of law? That was indeed Frans Timmermans’ fate.
But if we put the process aside and focus on the package deal, I am struck by the lack of vision that it demonstrates. It would not appear to be the case that the EU27 sat down to discuss the necessary qualifications and skills of the people we need to lead the EU through the next five years. To ensure that Europe remains strong and united (well, post-Brexit, that is). To ensure that Europe plays a positive and valuable role on the world stage. It is not clear, either, how the well-being of people and planet played into the decision-making, which is disappointing given the importance that the EU has always claimed to attach to sustainable development. The coming five years will be critical to as we are heading towards a crunch period for issues like climate change and biodiversity. Not to mention the fact that social unrest has been bubbling under the surface over the last few years and certainly requires a set of leaders who take seriously the rising inequality, whether that be within European nations or in partner countries.
Clearly many mistakes were made along the way which led to the backroom deal outcome. We can only hope that, if the proposed nominations are confirmed by the European Parliament (and that’s not a given, by any means), the future leaders of the European institutions are more willing to go beyond business as usual than the current jobholders.