Well, it’s been a nail-biting race from start to finish. The polls have swung back and forth between the hopefuls. Each one has laid out their manifesto and vision of the future for the people to scrutinise. The hustings and debates – oh, the debates, so full of vim and energy, with candidates for the very highest office presenting their character, experience and proposals, to vast public interest.
Who are you backing? Frans Timmermans (#TimeforTimmer)? Manfred Weber (#ManfredsTheMan)? Or perhaps you’re mad-keen on late entrant Ursula von der Leyen (#WouldILeyToYouBabyWouldILeyToYou)?
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of any of these people, they’re only fighting it out to run the EU Commission, and thereby wield sizeable power running the executive of what the President of the European Parliament openly referred to as a “country” this morning. As such, there’s no particular reason why you should know who they are, or ever have encountered anything they might believe or desire. Indeed, they’ve no particular interest in talking to you about it, either – because neither you nor any other voter anywhere in Europe will ever have a say on whether they get or keep this job. Hence why there’s no public campaign at all.
EU-enthusiasts rarely choose to talk about the way the organisation’s institutions work, and the process for picking a successor to Jean-Claude Juncker shows exactly why. The whole thing is stitched-up in grubby horse-trading behind closed doors, from a field of candidates with next to no profile among the hundreds of millions of people they seek to govern over, and with no interest in or opportunity for meaningful public scrutiny or accountability.
Commissioners, remember, may be nominated by Member States but are expressly forbidden from acting in office as a representative or servant of their country or its people. Instead, they are charged with responsibility to the EU project itself – so disregard for the interests or concerns of the people, any of the people, is a deliberate feature of the job, not an oversight. (That hasn’t stopped Angela Merkel getting herself into trouble by irritating her allies by trying to dish out the top jobs in a way that might help with her domestic political troubles, but as ever in the ‘rules-based’ EU, there is one rule for some and one rule for everyone else.)
It’s the task of identifying exactly what the interests of the EU project currently are which has thrown the whole process into chaos this time round. Not only has Merkel’s EPP kicked back against her self-interested approach, but the Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – have started to throw their weight around more assertively than in the past, after years of feeling marginalised by France and Germany. At the same time, the Euro elections watered down the traditional dominance of the major party groupings, some of whom are struggling to adjust to the changed circumstance. And the continued presence of the UK in the EU, and therefore Brexit as a topic, has further complicated the decision – the new Commission President will have to navigate potentially choppy waters soon after taking office.
This farce has flowed back and forth for quite some time, and today’s tide is reported to be flowing in the direction of von der Leyen. Readers will of course know that she is currently Germany’s defence minister (overseeing a military which was last year deemed officially “not deployable”), but they might not be acquainted with some of her views on the desirable direction of travel for the EU.
She wants “a united states of Europe – run along the lines of the federal states of Switzerland, Germany or the USA”. She argues that “Europe must be able to defend itself” with “a European army”, which she says “is already taking shape”. And in the midst of the Eurozone crisis she urged the EU to demand gold reserves or state industrial holdings as collateral for bailouts to Greece – something others warned might drive the already stricken Euro member to outright default.
It sounds as though she’ll fit right in. Now, can we get out, please?