The Council of Europe – posing for pictures was about the only thing they could agree to do yesterday. (Picture via Politicalite)
The Council Of Europe, which consists of the political leaders of all EU member states (including the UK as Britain is still a member,) gathered for a summit meeting on Thursday to decide which candidates should be appointed to fill several top jobs when European Commission president Jean – Claude Juncker and several other senior figures step down at the end of their terms of office. They were locked in debate for the whole day and late into the night but were unable to reach agreement on who will fill even one of the positions within the EU.
The current President of the EU Council and one of the people who will retire later this year, Donald Tusk, a former Prime Minister of Poland, said he will organise another summit on the 30th of June to readdress the matter. Tusk, who has been touted as a possible presidential candidate in Poland for the centre-right and pro-EU Civic Platform, is one of the politicians still pushing for political integration of member states, a position which has been shown by the rise of nationalism both in his own country and throughout the EU to be as popular as a plague of boils with EU citizens .
Choosing a replacement for Commission President Juncker was always going to be difficult as the position has previously gone to the candidate favoured by the German government but growing resentment among other member states of the way Germany has manipulated EU policy to its own benefit, added to the huge influx of Eurosceptic European Parliament members following the success of both left and right leaning nationalist movements in the EU election last month. All previous elections have led to the centre – right Christian Democrats of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre – left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) groups dominating the assembly. This grand coalition of establishment parties previously divided the leadership positions based on how the two groups performed in the EU elections.
In this year’s elections voters were more polarised in their voting intentions, with a big surge in support for the Greens, the far left, and for nationalist parties. For many reasons, including the immigration crisis, economic stagnation, an EU expansionist agenda and the increasing awareness that the EU elite is completely out of touch with the problems that beset ordinary people in EU member states, the mood has swung against the consensus politics of the traditional parties. And then there are the minor local difficulties of Brexit and Italy’s launch of a parallel currency which must lead to it leaving the Eurozone. All of this severely weakens the long standing hegemony of the leading German and French parties, all of which have adhered to the neo – liberal consensus.
The failure of the EPP and the S&D to win enough seats for a combined majority in the European Parliament has forced them to look for deals with other groups, most of which seek to overturn the status quo. President Emmanuel Macron, and the new Renew Europe group of centre to centre-right liberal parties that he leads are determined to alter the balance of power in their favour.
Manfred Weber, Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) nominee is the EPP group choice to be the Commission President. Macron and his allies have refused to support Weber, and have called on Merkel to anoint another figure. Macron has suggested Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier or Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager as alternative option, but reports suggest neither name figured in the actual discussions yesterday.
The inability to agree on who will assume the presidency of the Commission will in turn, result in delays to the appointment of the new head of the European Central Bank (ECB). The first act of the European Parliament on returning from its summer recess will be to elect its president from candidates suggested by the European Council, but as the current council, which has not progressed as far as considering that question yet, is unlikely to be able to agree on the candidates that position too is in limbo. Furthermore new European Commission President must be chosen prior to the first sitting of the ninth European Parliament, which takes place on the 1st of July.
Taking all of this into account puts into perspective the words spoken by Jean – Claude Juncker a few weeks ago: “Democracy is a fundamental problem.” For a group of elitists trying to merge 500 million people spread across twenty – seven different nations with widely differing cultural and economic needs into a single political entity, one can see that it is.
It was an understanding of the problems inherent in that which prompted many of us in Britain to vote to leave the EU.