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!