EU democracy on shifting sands

As the European Parliament approaches the summer recess and Brussels slows to a relative calm for a few weeks, it’s a great moment to look back on the first half of 2019. Democracy has been the silver thread throughout the past six months, with the build up and holding of the European elections and a number of national and local elections. Election processes are central to our democracies, but this time democracy was also a central issue topic of electoral debates and the processes that followed, which led to the nomination of the European Commission President earlier this week. Whereas we can claim success regarding the European Parliament elections, with many more citizens heeding the call to vote, a positive evaluation of the democratic process of electing the next Commission President is more difficult to grant.

During the elections, we encouraged and motivated EU citizens to vote for a European Parliament that works towards a more social Europe, and gains were made for democratic legitimacy through higher voter turnout. This hard-earnt legitimacy has been put at risk by EU leaders making backroom deals on whom to nominate for the EU’s top jobs. Indeed, while it’s not perfect, the Spitzenkandidaten process contributes to transparency and a more open and democratic way of selecting EU institution leaders. This opacity has further fed the climate of mistrust and suspicion about the EU. It cannot continue. What people in the EU need and want is a change in political culture, and we need EU leaders to get behind this shift rather than challenging it.

Signs of this change emerged in the Parliament debate and vote for Ursula von der Leyen as Commission President, with many speakers questioning the legitimacy of the candidate, her programme, and her vision as the leader of European executive. Whereas our biggest fear was that the Parliament would just rubberstamp the decision of the European Council, MEPs proved it not to be the case. This is clearly democratic progress and could be a real game changer in EU institutions’ power relationships in the coming years. We look forward to it!

After years of austerity, there is a renewed interest in social policy at the EU level. Decisions taken in the coming months will either confirm or kill a vision of Europe that puts people at its core. The selection of future commissioners and questions raised by MEPs at hearings will be useful tests to check political intentions. If it is truly committed to ‘social’, the next college of commissioners needs to have one common objective: leaving no one behind.

Best wishes,

Kélig Puyet, Director of Social Platform