EU 6.0 Will Be Back Soon In a New Form – Stay Tuned!

With the new European Parliament and the new European Commission now duly elected, appointed, approved; and with them having taken up their work (and their perennial contest for power and influence); EU 6.O’s first mission — namely to keep you up to date on the key events during this period, is accomplished.

But we have big plans for this space, so don’t go away! We will providing more valuable information, knowledge and analysis in new ways and in new forms. See you soon!

Taking Stock: With the New Parliament and Commission in Place, What Has Changed?

Whatever the EU’s future, 2014 will be seen as among the pivotal years in its history. This year saw the first EU-wide elections since the worst economic crisis in the union’s history had placed its still relatively young monetary union under enormous strain and, for some, even called the very existence of the EU into question. Consensus had grown that reform is needed, but the nature of this reform remained hotly contested.

These were also the first European elections under the new Lisbon Treaty. The elections reflected a rise in Euroscepticism, most notably in powerful countries that have traditionally been staunchly pro-EU, namely France, Italy, and Germany. This forced previously autonomous political groups of the European Parliament into the equivalent a grand coalition which then backed the new Commission President.

Perhaps a more politicised EU was an inevitable consequence of further powers having been given to the EU institutions by the Lisbon Treaty. This politicisation was reflected in a visible “Europeanisation” of national election campaigns, where debates over austerity continually brought into focus the EU’s role in national economies.

Growing politicisation was also reflected in the European Parliament’s unilateral organisation and successful application of the so-called Spitzenkandidat system, through which it managed, essentially, to informally seize the power to choose the President of the European Commission, a power still officially reserved for the governments of the Member States. The Member States found themselves forced to go along with this and confirmed Jean-Claude Junker, a staunch pro-European and a highly experienced and political operator, as the new Commission President. All in all, we now have a more powerful Parliament and a more political Commission President.

And so, ironically in this age of Euroscepticism among the national electorates, the two centralised EU Institutions, the Parliament and the Commission, have increased their political power vis-à-vis the de-centralised Council.

Indeed, Juncker went on to form, in his own words, a “more political” Commission, including structural changes that are almost radical in their introduction of formal hierarchy and centralisation, facilitating centralised political control over decision-making.

Europe’s leaders have accepted that the EU needs to change if it is to survive. This year marks the start of a more political EU and a new chapter in its evolution.

With the new Commission taking office on 1 November, this blog’s raison d’être is fulfilled, and so EU 6.0 now draws to a close. We hope you have enjoyed our weekly updates and commentaries during this year of change. EU Issue Tracker is working on a new project, scheduled to launch in the first part of 2015. Stay tuned!

The Year in Review: European Parliament

The first European elections took place since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which gave the European Parliament new competences. The election campaign also saw the introduction of the Spitzenkandidat system, under which the candidate from the largest European party would be the natural choice for Commission President.

Pan-European debates between the Spitzenkandidaten were held for the first time, which unfortunately failed to capture the attention of the general public. This apathy was reflected at the polls with only 42.54% of EU citizens voting, slightly lower than the previous election of 2009.

The election results did not bring any major change to the political balances inside the Parliament, though a push from the far-right did take some seats away from the EPP. France’s Front National, which gained a surprising number of seats, attempted to form a new group with several other far-right parties, but failed.

Britain’s UKIP, which had been courted by Le Pen, was slightly more successful, forming an odd alliance with Italy’s Movimento 5 Stelle. The existence of this new EFDD group however was called into question after Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule abandoned the group. The EFDD was saved thanks to the last-minute recruitment of Polish extremist MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz.

The rise of Euroscepticism and the formation of a “grand coalition” of the major groups suggest that the key battle lines for the next five years have been drawn. While a great deal of headlines will undoubtedly be generated by those at the margins, the real power remains at the centre. For example, negotiations between the S&D and the EPP have resulted in Martin Schulz regaining the EP Presidency for the next two and a half years, before a MEP from the EPP – French MEP Alain Lamassoure has been tipped – takes over.

The Year in Review: European Commission

The appointment of this new Commission has been especially fractious, in part due to the EP’s decision to flex its muscles. The Lisbon Treaty states that EU leaders have to take into account the election results when selecting the Commission President. Giving its own interpretation of the Treaty, the European Parliament came forward with the Spitzenkandidat system.

As the EPP gained the most seats in the European Parliament, Juncker was explicitly backed by a grand-coalition formed by the EPP, S&D and ALDE. The European Council eventually appointed Juncker, though it refused to explicitly back the Spitzenkandidat system, fearing this would set a precedent.

Meanwhile, the battle over the selection of Commissioners has been fairly brutal. Key sources of conflict included the designation of the next EU High Representative – long coveted by both Poland and Italy – and the next Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, coveted by France. In addition, the European Parliament upheld its tradition of claiming a scalp by rejecting Slovenian candidate Alenka Bratušek and forcing Juncker to reshuffle his team.

Juncker’s new Commission has a rather hierarchical and strategic structure, composed of seven Vice-Presidents who will steer and coordinate the work of a number of Commissioners incorporated in project teams. While it remains to be seen how this structure will work in practice, it again points to a more political EU executive.

The Year in Review: European Council

Donald Tusk has been appointed as the future President of the European Council by EU leaders. He will take up his post on 1 December.

Tusk’s nomination was preceded by months of speculation and horse-trading between Member States. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, the Swedish PM Frederik Reinfeldt, the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybausknaite and the former Italian PM Enrico Letta were all names that circulated during 2014.

Mogherini’s appointment as High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy over Poland’s FM Sikorski cleared the way for Tusk’s appointment both from a political and geographical point of view. His nomination has however raised eyebrows on account of his limited language skills, which according to some would prevent him from reaching deals with national leaders. His candidacy also faced scepticism from British Prime Minister David Cameron, on account of the UK’s opposition to EU labour migration policy. Cameron and Tusk eventually resolved their differences however, enabling EU leaders to reach a consensus.