“President of the Commission with the Parliament, or with the Council?”

Brussels, 18/07/2019

On Tuesday, all eyes were set on the European Parliament in Strasbourg where Ursula von der Leyen was elected President of the European Commission by a slim majority.

As many Europeans, and especially as European federalists, we are deeply concerned with the opaque, closed-door process through which Ms von der Leyen had been appointed as a candidate for Commission President, despite not having run for the European Parliamentary elections, nor having set out her vision on Europe. To the contrary; we thought European democracy had overcome such procedures by introducing the lead candidate process (“Spitzenkandidaten”) in 2014.

As a federalist organisation, we always considered the lead candidate process a means to an end. It was meant to enhance the visibility of the European elections, to provide a platform for debating divergent or conflicting ideas on the future of Europe, and further democratise the EU by providing a clear link between the vote cast by citizens and the formation of the European Executive. We were also clear that a Spitzenkandidat at the helm of the Commission would not, and could not, fix the fundamental flaws of today’s EU in and by itself, not least because it remained dependent on the European Council’s willingness to adhere to unwritten rules. Europe cannot and will not be built by relying on the assurances of Nation-States to put European interests first.

This built-in structural weakness, along with other political factors - including the European Parliament’s inability to create a formal majority coalition -, has caused the temporary death of  the lead candidate process. No true European democrat can be satisfied with this situation. We must ensure that the necessary legal changes are made to revive the system for 2024 in order to reinforce the link between the outcome of the European elections and the formation of the European Commission. This is all the more urgent since, with their vote, European citizens have called on the Members of the European Parliament to provide an impetus for European democratic renewal.

Thence, we asked the European Parliament to use its democratic mandate to either choose the person to lead the European Commission, or define the political programme on which it would agree to elect the Council’s candidate. As Young European Federalists [JEF Europe], we believe such programme should include a radical democratic reform of the leading candidate process; a fundamental reinforcement of the EU foreign, defence, and security policies to enable Europe to speak with one authoritative voice on the global stage; strengthening the EU’s capacity to deliver for its citizens on issues such as climate, migration or the social pillar by ensuring common European financing for European public goods; and an improvement and reinforcement of the Rule of Law framework at EU level. Such key reforms are drawn from our political platform, as adopted by our members in over 30 countries. It is also clear, for us federalists, that none of these reforms can be substantive, nor can the EU be truly democratic, without its own federal Constitution. The European Parliament must launch a process that will lead to the establishment of a European Constituent Assembly.

The European Parliament has, with its vote on Tuesday, assessed that Ms von der Leyen’s commitments were sufficient. We believe the European Parliament should have taken the time to work up a detailed and formal coalition agreement between the main pro-European groups and Ms von der Leyen before granting her a blank check on the basis of a number of headline announcements.  Von der Leyen’s speech did however include many proposals that form part of our core demands: a renewed leading candidate process, a de-facto right of initiative for the European Parliament, policy proposals for a greener Europe, a foreign policy framework that enables the Union to  act together. JEF Europe also welcomes her proposals to complete the Economic and Monetary Union with a European unemployment reinsurance, a European deposit insurance and, although too small in size, with a Eurozone budget. We are certainly encouraged by her commitment to a gender-balanced Commission: indeed, it would be tragically ironic if the first female Commission President were to fail at this task. Whether these commitments will turn into reality remains to be seen: not only does the President-elect still need to work out the details of the ideas, but she must urgently clarify how she plans to overcome the entrenched opposition of Member States’ representatives in the Council and European Council on many of these initiatives. That she would not address this explicitly in her speech, nor in her political guidelines, is a weakness that cannot be overlooked.

The small majority of nine votes which the President-elect received, indicates that she and her Commission will need to fight for a majority, issue by issue, time and again. To be able to rely on the European Parliament as a trusted partner, when the Member States in the Council will fail her, she must demonstrate an ability for building inclusive, forward-looking, pro-European coalitions. We call on the President-elect and the European Parliament to harness the full potential of the forthcoming Conference on the future of Europe. They must not settle for a short-sighted vision: such Conference has to be meaningful, and be set up in a way that enables European citizens and civil society to play an active role in it. A united Europe will be built with and by citizens, or it won’t be.

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JEF Europe on the European Parliament elections

July 9, 2019 “The Spitzenkandidaten may have failed, but European democracy not yet: this Parliament can still define von der Leyen’s agenda”, urge Young European Federalists

July 5, 2019 European Parliament must protect European democracy: choose Europe, not national interest! 

May 28, 2019 JEF Europe on Spitzenkandidaten: “EUCO keep out - the Parliament decides!”

May 27, 2019 Europeans have voted for change: it’s time to act, Europe!

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About JEF Europe

The Young European Federalists (JEF) Europe is a non-partisan youth NGO active with 13.000  members active in more than 30 countries. The organisation strives towards a federal Europe based on the principles of democracy and subsidiarity as well as respect for human rights. JEF promotes true European Citizenship, and works towards more active participation of young people in democratic life. While the umbrella organisation JEF Europe was founded in 1972, its sections have been operating continuously since the end of the Second World War, making it the oldest pro-European and only federalist youth organisation.

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Press Contact
Christopher Glück, President
Square de Meeûs 25
1000 Brussels