EU socialists seek right to elect head of commission


EUROPE’S SOCIALIST leaders are escalating a nascent campaign to give voters the right to elect the next president of the European Commission in the 2014 European elections.

The Party of European Socialists (PES), which includes Labour among its 34 members, plans to adopt new internal rules so the party can nominate a candidate to lead the commission. For any such contest to proceed in the European election, heads of state and government would have to relinquish their exclusive right to select the chief of the commission.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, chairman of the PES congress in Brussels next week, said the initiative was in keeping with the need to foster transparency and democracy in the appointment.

“I think it is,” he said, when asked whether it was realistic to expect heads of state and government to change how the commission chief was appointed. This was part of the process of democratic change. “It’s a new black-and-white chessboard but the rules of the game still apply.”

The significant legislative powers now vested in the European Parliament and the very notion of direct elections to it offered a lesson, Mr Quinn added.

The Minister said he did not know whether the main centre-right political group – the European People’s Party (EPP), to which Fine Gael is affiliated – was willing to back the campaign.

However, he said it was possible that momentum to change the system could build if German chancellor Angela Merkel entered government with the Social Democrats after the German election next September. Dr Merkel is the leading political figure in the EPP.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz, a German, has already declared his intention to seek the PES nomination. Other candidates were likely to come forward when the PES adopted its new rules, Mr Quinn said.

He said votes for a candidate seeking a seat in the European Parliament could also stand as a vote for designated candidate for the presidency of the commission.

For example, he said Labour could ask people in Dublin to vote for MEP Emer Costello for a parliament seat on the basis that such a vote would translate into a vote for Mr Schulz to take charge of the commission.

Former taoiseach John Bruton is among the leading advocates for a direct election, arguing it would invigorate political debate in Europe.

Commission chief José Manuel Barroso backed the notion last week, saying a new selection procedure could be adopted without any change to the European treaties.