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Debate: EU elected president

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Should the EU have a president elected directly by the people?

Background and context

At present the Presidency of the European Union rotates between its fifteen member states every six months, but this involves chairing EU summits and meetings of the Council of Ministers, along with the power to set the agenda in EU affairs. Central Power within the EU lies in the European Commission, headed by its own President, since 1999 Romano Prodi. The governments of the 15 member states currently appoint the President of the Commission. In the recently convened Constitutional Convention on the future of Europe, chaired by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the future direction of the EU is being debated. The proposal for a directly elected President of the European Commission bears directly on the future shape of the EU, with proponents of the federal model seeing this as a giant leap towards a single state, with opponents agreeing but seeing this as a further intrusion into national sovereignty.[1]

Contents

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Strong management: Is strong management of the EU required?

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Yes

  • Running the complex EU state apparatus requires a strong President. The European Union has an impressive list of state apparatus - judiciary, laws, flag, anthem, currency, police force - to run this effectively a strong President is needed. An appointed President of the Commission owes his position to national governments and has no direct mandate from the EU’s citizens; a directly elected President would have the status and the authority to govern for all.[2]


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No

  • Strong presidential state powers are unnecessary and uncalled for. Electing a President confers legitimacy on such a move and represents the inevitability of a European superstate, which is not necessarily desirable. The fifteen national governments in the Council of Ministers are all democratically elected with a mandate to govern in the best interests of their citizens.[3]
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Legitimacy: Would the election of a President make the EU a more accountable institution?

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Yes

  • A government controlled by a single person would increase transparency. Having too many heads results in the political process getting infested with red tapism and the likes of a bureaucratic state. A single elected president would diminish it if not totally do away with it. It would hence lead to a more transparent state.
  • Election of a President focuses the accountability on one single individual. The commission, Parliament, council and council ministers all have divergent interests and opinions and thus often speak in their own or a particular state's name rather than that of the entire union, confounding the problem. Since the number of people involved in the decision making process is huge, the responsibility of being accountable is in the hands of many a people thus decreasing the intensity of being accountable. Electing a president rests the responsibility of accountability on one single individual and he has to live up to it due to the constraints of a regular contest for power in the form of elections.
  • Electing an EU president directly will increase accountability. Direct elections increase the accountability of the president as compared to those elected by the state heads wherein such accountability gets restricted. The current system involving 27 heads of state in the council represented by a rotating president and also the presidents of the commission and the parliament makes it unclear who actually speaks for the EU.
  • An elected president would make the EU more functional. A directly elected President would make the European Union both more legitimate and accountable, which is desirable. In any case, enlargement to 25 or more states requires institutional changes to avoid complete gridlock in decision-making.[4]


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No

  • Electing a President increases the power a single individual can hold. The electing of a President in no way makes the EU a more accountable institution as it invariably increases the power a single person can hold such an outcome only reflects aspects of monarchy where in accountability is at is bare minimum. Also since an elected President will undoubtedly be from a large member state his accountability can also be restricted to just his state, the need for getting votes from his state in the next general elections being an precondition for such an act. Thus resulting in the EU being not only a less accountable institution, but also an institution of unjust accountability.
  • An EU president cannot hold such a complicated system to account. There would still be an unelected central bank, court and commission making decisions. Legitimacy would not come.
  • An elected President will not solve the problems of enlargement, as gridlock in the Council of Ministers, where real power is located, will be even more frequent than it is now.[5]


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History: Has the EU tended toward greater unification in its history?

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Yes

  • An EU president is necessary with greater integration, federalization. The purpose of the European Union has been full political and economic integration since the Treaty of Rome in the 1950s. Ever-closer union has been the aim. A President is necessary and inevitable for a federal grouping of States.[6]


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No

  • The EU may not become a federal union that requires a president. Integration is not the only path forward. Canada remains autonomous from the US and co-operates with it in NAFTA and NATO without the need for a North American President. The imposition of an elected President may well lead to federalisation but this is not inevitable.[7]
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Representation: Is an elected president a superior form of representation?

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Yes

  • Presidential elections allow citizens to set, not follow EU Agenda. The European Union’s key problem is its perceived remoteness, inability to follow a wanted agenda and the problem of influencing it from without. Direct elections of a powerful president would allow citizens to set, not follow the European Union Agenda. The renewed interest would boost voter turn out and help engage with the European Union’s bodies.[8]


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No

  • An EU president would not represent individual EU states well. People dislike the future direction of the European Union. Issues such as CAP, asylum etc. etc. can all be solved without the imposition of a directly elected President who would take power away from the Nation states, thus taking the European Union even further from people’s consciousness. An alternative proposal would be for the Council of Ministers to end the rotating six-month Presidency, and for its member states to appoint a politician to run the Council’s meetings and represent Europe more effectively.[9]


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Direct democracy: Is the direct election of EU presidents democratically important?

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Yes

  • Being a part of the process is an important requirement in any democracy. The citizens identify themselves more closely with the EU when they are allowed to cast votes. Only when they do so is the government a government by the people, of the people and for the people.
  • By seeking a mandate for popular reform, the European Union must seek the good will of the people. In this way effective solutions can be found, rather than unelected leaders who had no risk of being replaced and thus feel no compulsion to act in the people’s best interests.[10]


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No

  • Population differences lead to unfair elections. In direct elections where each citizen can caste a vote, the difference in population of the various member states leads to an unjust election as candidates would focus only in those states where the population is the most as compared to those member states where the population is relatively less.
  • Elections would force EU politicians to act as populists. Populist decisions are frequently not in the interests of the European Union. In addition, many necessary European Union reforms, such as CAP are politically unviable, especially in Spain and France, for example. For the good of the European Union such measures need to be taken, but will not be if it becomes to subject to public opinion.[11]


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Pro/con resources

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Yes


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No

See also

External links and resources

Books:

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