The wrong campaign for president

Paavo Lipponen (photo by Tarmo Thorström)

The Financial Times today carries an article by Paavo Lipponen, former prime minister of Finland, outlining his view of what the role of president of the European Council entails. (Read it here.) Another candidate launch, in other words, to join those of Mr Blair and Mr Juncker.

No doubt it is certainly welcome that there is so much public speculation about who should fill the important leadership roles in the European Union, but I can’t avoid the feeling that this campaign is over the wrong job. After all, it is the president of the Commission that is the more powerful role within the institutions: it sets the legislative agenda, controls the budget and leads the executive.

Furthermore, it is the Commission president who is elected by and accountable to the European Parliament. The Council president reports to the EP four times a year after each summit but, other than that, need give it no special attention.

The choice of Commission president is, therefore, to some extent dependent on public opinion – ideally, it would be entirely dependent on public opinion as expressed in the European Parliament elections – but was made, this time, virtually without reference to the public. There was a single candidate who toured the national capitals and secured his election.

On the other hand, the choice of Council president is designed to be one from which the public is excluded – the electorate is confined to members of the European Council themselves – yet this is the election where the candidates are parading in front of us. Curious, no?

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