Cameron’s relentless drive to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid for presidency of the European Commission is driven by his desperate need to be able to negotiate prior to his proposed EU referendum in 2017 with a president who will be sympathetic to his demands for changes in the Britain-EU relationship to try to swing the vote to stay in Europe. In power terms and given the ungovernability of the Tory parliamentary party because of its turbulent right-wing caucus, this is a logical course for him to take. But it raises the much more important democratic issue of the process for selecting the head of the Commission which has been pushed to the margins by the overriding drive to block a federalist.
The EPP, the centre-right party in the EU parliament headed by Merkel, claims the right to select Juncker as Commission president because they won the EU elections on 22 May and Juncker out of the various spitzenkandidaten (or top candidates) was their man. However it is difficult to accept that the EPP commands the confidence of the European electorate when their vote dropped substantially by 7%. There is also grave doubt about the claims of the EU parliament that it, as a newly elected body, has the mandate of the European peoples to choose the next president. The truth is rather that the Euro elections were a golden opportunity for a throwaway vote to kick the government or the whole political class, an opportunity of which very large minorities across Europe availed themselves. The idea that this was a thoughtful vote about the future of the Europe project is laughable, and indeed it has now ended with the absurd situation in which voters are supposed to have ‘chosen’ a leader they’ve never heard of, and if they had heard of him as an incorrigible political insider at the European court, they would have undoubtedly have rejected him with gusto.
Prime ministers however of the various European countries can rightly claim to reflect the confidence of their electorates since domestic elections are hard-fought and the outcomes do largely represent the real national sentiment at the time. It is above all in nations, with their shared ties of language, history and political culture, that democracy comes alive. At a European level the structures of democracy can be reproduced, but what is missing are the underlying integral bonds that bind the electorate together. The political unit is too diffuse to make sense to voters. The argument is much the same about the euro. It was said that even if EU economies were very different, the simple creation of a single currency would force them to converge. Transferring powers now to the EU parliament won’t drive political convergence, it will more likely create a political disaster to rival the economic disaster of the euro, and for the same reason.