On 14 February 2018 Jean-Claude Juncker gave a press conference providing his vision for future institutional issues in the European Union. In his introductory speech he called for the continuation of the ‘Lead Candidate’ Process, known widely in Brussels in its German form ‘Spitzenkandidaten’. Under this process, each political group taking part in the European Parliament election nominates a candidate for President of the Commission. The candidate of the party that wins the most seats is then selected by the European Council as the Commission President, and the Parliament confirms the candidate by a majority of votes.
The process proved to be controversial when it was first trialled in 2014, and was pushed through by the European Parliament much to the annoyance of then UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who tried to block the appointment of President Juncker to the role following the EPP group’s victory in the European elections that year.
Juncker also addressed the issue of the composition of the European Parliament which, following the UK referendum, must be changed by May 2018. Particular attention will be given to the 73 seats that the UK will leave vacant. Juncker set out the four options available to the EU:
- Make the Parliament smaller than the maximum 751;
- Reallocate seats to other member states;
- Reserve unused seats for future enlargement of the Union;
- Reserve unused seats for the possible creation of a transnational constituency.
Juncker spoke in favour of the Lead Candidate Process as both the Council and the Parliament are required to endorse the candidate. This means that the Commission President has a much stronger mandate. However, the process is somewhat in jeopardy because a number of member states (notably France, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia) are against it. Their main reasons for opposing the system are that they want the Council to be able to select the President of its choice without interference from the European Parliament. The Parliament recently adopted a resolution (457 votes to 200) saying it would reject any candidate for the Commission Presidency that not been appointed as a Spitzenkandidat — or someone who has the formal backing of a party grouping — in the run-up to European elections. Juncker clearly faces a struggle to persuade governments across the EU to accept this system and it looks like the Parliament and the Council will almost certainly lock horns over the issue following the European elections next year.
Juncker went on to outline his views on the possible creation of a transnational constituency which would use the seats vacated by the UK post-Brexit. In a vote on 7 February 2018, the European Parliament decided not to call for the creation of a transnational constituency, although this does not prevent future debate on the matter. Juncker said that the Commission is sympathetic to the idea of transnational lists, but that this would require unanimous agreement of the Council and changes to electoral law in all 27 Member States in the next year to be applied for the 2019 elections. A number of member states have recently expressed support for this idea, while others have expressed their disagreement with its establishment. Those in favour argue that a transnational constituency could address the EU’s perceived democratic deficit and that the creation of such a list would kickstart the development of a common European demos. On the other hand, those against the proposal have argued that parliamentarians should represent and communicate closely with the voters who elected them on a local or national level, both for reasons of accountability and to be able to raise concerns on behalf of their constituents.
In his State of the Union address last September, Juncker made his first suggestions for a double-hatted EU President. In his most recent speech he reiterated that this would make the Union more efficient as a single person would hold the two offices of the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission.