Seen through the lenses of Donald Tusk, the European Union is in good health: the turnout at European Parliament elections has returned to increase (one in two citizens voted); nationalist parties have grown, but there was no “avalanche”, they are unevenly distributed and above all they are divided Last but not least, Brexit “has been a vaccine against anti-EU propaganda and fake news” and in fact, nobody is speaking about leaving the “common home” or wiping it out. Nationalists – he inferred – use bombastic slogans, but ultimately they have no alternative plans. Thus, concluding the extraordinary summit held the evening of May 28 in Brussels, the Polish President of the European Council made a personal assessment of the elections of 23-26 May, looking ahead to the Europe of the future. “Europe is the winner in these elections – he said, seemingly determined – . The vast majority voted for a more effective, stronger and united EU, while rejecting those who want a weak Europe.”
Those who count and those who don’t. “Tonight the EU leaders met to assess the outcome of the European elections and to discuss what these results mean for the EU, as well as for nominating the new heads of the European institutions”, remarked Donald Tusk at the end of the short meeting with EU heads of Government or State. He expressed his happiness about the turnout, “the highest in 25 years.
This proves that the EU is a strong, pan-European democracy
which citizens care about. Whoever will lead the European institutions, they will have a genuine mandate from the people.” He went on to note that “we will have a slightly more complex parliament”, requiring at least three or four parties to form a majority – an evident reference to EPP, Socialists & Democrats, Liberals and Greens. The nationalist parties, distributed in at least two or three groups in Strasbourg (including the majority of MEPs elected in Italy), will most likely be excluded from the nomination and decision-making process.
Under scrutiny. Occasionally, Tusk’s analyses are a bit puzzling: excessive optimism sometimes seems out of place. For example, he said: “In fact, as people have become more pro-European, some major Eurosceptic parties have abandoned their anti-EU slogans and presented themselves as EU-reformers.” While the second part of the sentence is true, the first part is yet to be verified. He went on: “I have no doubt that one of the reasons why people on the continent voted for a pro-European majority is also Brexit.” As Europeans see what Brexit means in practice, they also draw conclusions.” Tusk is right about this, however the growth of nationalist parties deserves further reflection, along with the fact that in some Countries nationalist parties represent a relative majority or are government parties. The “case” of Italy, Hungary, France, Czech Republic and Poland, inter alia, were under close scrutiny at the summit.
Italy downgraded? With regard to the main theme of the meeting, i.e. the discussion for nominating the new heads of the European institutions, Tusk made clear that everything is up in the air. It involves the appointment of the new president of the Commission (instead of Juncker), of the European Council (the post held by Tusk), ECB (Draghi is leaving), and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The entire college of Commissioners, due to take office on 1 November, must also be renewed.
The decision involves national governments and Parliament
called to a confidence vote on the President of the Commission and the executive as a whole. In turn, on 2 July MEPs will elect the President of Parliament, a post hitherto held by Tajani. The stakes are high and unfortunately Rome, that until now had three of the five “top jobs” with Draghi, Tajani and Mogherini , is bound to retrogress.
Tug of war. In last evening’s closed-door meeting at the European Council there was a comprehensive discussion and a tug-of-war – that no one denied – between Merkel and Macron, on the name of the President of the Commission. The spietzenkandidaten system, the ‘lead candidate system’, i.e. candidates proposed by European party alliances, should be applied to this office, the most voted of whom would become Juncker’s successor. But this practice is supported by the majority, and not by all the groups in the European Parliament. Thus, Manfred Weber, the spietzenkandidate of the People’s Party, the most voted for Strasbourg and supported by the German Chancellor, is by no means certain of being appointed President of the Commission. The French President is more likely to support another candidate, perhaps a woman, Margrethe Vestager, who happens to be a member of the Liberal group, which includes the French MEPs elected in Macron’s Renaissance list.
Criteria and balances. Moreover, as Tusk explained, “in accordance with the Treaties there can be no automaticity. At the same time, no-one can be excluded.” Also since the distribution of top jobs should take into account various criteria and balances between political parties, between States (more or less large), gender (Tusk advocates at least two positions assigned to women). The Polish politician added: “the future President of the Commission must have the support of both a qualified majority in the European Council and a majority of the Members of the European Parliament.” It restarts from here. “I will now engage in consultations with the European Parliament, as foreseen by the Treaty. To kick-start this process I have already offered to meet the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents as soon as they are ready. In parallel, I will also continue my consultations with Members of the European Council both on the future President of the Commission and on the future President of the European Council and the European Central Bank, as well as the High Representative. I can promise that I will be as open and transparent as possible.”
Principles and persons. At the opening of the European Council, the outgoing President of the EU Parliament, Antonio Tajani, conveyed the voice of the Assembly: “I illustrated to the Council Parliament’s position on the procedure to be followed for the appointment of the new President of the Commission” on “a mandate from the Conference of Presidents of political groups.” “I have told the Member States that Parliament endorses the spitzenkandidaten procedure” because “it’s democratic”: those who “have presented themselves to voters with their faces to lead the Commission, and have gained the support of their citizens, deserve to be president”. Finally: “We know that some Heads of Government have said that they don’t like this strategy. That’s a position. We are in favour. For “we are not talking about people but about principles, about more democracy and greater respect for the will of the citizens.”