Lately the talks and speculations about the first “EU president” (i.e. president of the European Council) intensify in particular with the campaign pro and contra Tony Blair. The good thing about these talks is that they raise the profile of the post and people learn that something will change in the EU’s institutional setting. In practice, however, the crucial question remains unanswered: How will the competences between the EU president, the Commission president and the High Representative be belanced out?
My answer to this is very simple: The president of the European Council should be the Commission president. This so-called “double-hat” solution had been intensively discussed during the constitutional convention but member states were too afraid at the time to make this bold step at once. Instead they opted for a typical compromise through the introduction of the new additional post (EU president) while keeping the crucial role of the Commission president. At the time of the “compromise” there was talk that the current solution leaves doors open for the double-hat version at a later stage without any major constitutional reform. After a look at the Lisbon Treaty I would say that the idea needs to remain on the table. At least constitutionally I do not see any explicit ruling out of any incompatibility of the posts united in one person.
Now let us see if our EU leaders are potentially willing to engage in such a simple but so much more effective solution instead of buying out politicians or countries through a post that no one really needs in the end.What Europe needs is a more efficient Commission that has strong powers based on parliamentary consent. Instead a loose and vain president of the European Council would suck up extra resources, hinder the work of the Commission and compete for the little media space there is already for EU politics. Europeans do not need another figure head, they need efficient law-making streamlined along classic democratic powers, i.e. the Parliament and executive (=Commission).
Here is what the Lisbon Treaty (source) says about the role and nomination of the EU president and the Commission president:
ARTICLE 9b [European Council]
1. The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions.
2. The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.
5. The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end the President’s term of office in accordance with the same procedure.
6. The President of the European Council:
(a) shall chair it and drive forward its work;
(b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council;
(c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council;
(d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.
The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The President of the European Council shall not hold a national office.
ARTICLE 9 D [Commission]
1. The Commission shall promote the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end. It shall ensure the application of the Treaties, and of measures adopted by the institutions pursuant to them. It shall oversee the application of Union law under the control of the Court of Justice of the European Union. It shall execute the budget and manage programmes. It shall exercise coordinating, executive and management functions, as laid down in the Treaties. With the exception of the common foreign and security policy, and other cases provided for in the Treaties, it shall ensure the Union’s external representation. It shall initiate the Union’s annual and multiannual programming with a view to achieving interinstitutional agreements.
3. The Commission’s term of office shall be five years.
The members of the Commission shall be chosen on the ground of their general competence and European commitment from persons whose independence is beyond doubt.
In carrying out its responsibilities, the Commission shall be completely independent. Without prejudice to Article 9 E(2), the members of the Commission shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity. They shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties or the performance of their tasks.
6. The President of the Commission shall:
(a) lay down guidelines within which the Commission is to work;
(b) decide on the internal organisation of the Commission, ensuring that it acts consistently, efficiently and as a collegiate body;
(c) appoint Vice-Presidents, other than the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, from among the members of the Commission.
A member of the Commission shall resign if the President so requests. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign, in accordance with the procedure set out in Article 9 E(1), if the President so requests.
7. Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.
The Council, by common accord with the President-elect, shall adopt the list of the other persons whom it proposes for appointment as members of the Commission. They shall be selected, on the basis of the suggestions made by Member States, in accordance with the criteria set out in paragraph 3, second subparagraph, and paragraph 5, second subparagraph.
The President, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the other members of the Commission shall be subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament. On the basis of this consent the Commission shall be appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority.