Jean-Claude Juncker: A Victory for Democracy?

The nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker by the Council of Europe to become the next President of the European Commission has received an unusual amount of coverage in the UK for a matter concerning European politics.  David Cameron’s opposition to Juncker because of his commitment to greater European integration fits the narrative of the UK being dragged into a political union it has no desire to be in, while also allowing Cameron to show the electorate that he is capable of being ‘tough’ on Europe.  This is how an overwhelming defeat of 26 votes to 2 on Juncker’s nomination has been seen as a victory for Cameron.  However the vote’s implications have far greater implications than simply for domestic politics; it was also a victory for democracy within the EU.

A near-universal criticism of the EU is that it lacks democratic legitimacy and accountability.  This is in part what the European Parliament was aimed to solve; a directly elected chamber which has a say on EU legislation can provide accountability to the indirectly elected European Commission – though the Parliament still lacks powers possessed by most of its national equivalents.  The 2009 Lisbon Treaty sought to further the powers of the European Parliament as a way of boosting confidence in European institutions.  Whether it has been successful is up for debate, but one important tenet of the treaty was that, in nominating Presidents of the European Commission, European leaders must ‘take account’ of the results of the most recent European Parliament election.

Like many aspects of the EU, the way in which account should be taken of these results hasn’t been clearly defined.  The consensus has been that the grouping which wins the most seats in the Parliament would have its candidate become President.  This is the interpretation that has been sold to the European public, largely through a series of debates featuring each European grouping’s candidate to become the next President.  The European People’s Party ultimately won the most seats and thus, by this interpretation, Juncker as their candidate should become President.  It’s true that most voters didn’t cast their vote with these candidates in mind but, nevertheless, to renege on this assumption would render the debates a farce and be an affront to the EU’s only democratically-elected institution.  Cameron’s much looser interpretation is that the results show a desire for reform away from closer integration and that the President’s selection should reflect this.  This may be true in the UK – although UKIP’s success is more an indictment on the current state of British politics than of the EU – but he cannot project this message across the rest of Europe when pro-European parties won 70% of the seats in the European Parliament.

That EU procedure can provoke such drastically different interpretations is due to its half-hearted approach to democratic legitimacy.  Power still resides with the unelected commissioners of the European Commission.  If we wish to remain in the EU and for it to be more accountable, there are two main options: either have a directly elected President or allow Parliament to nominate the President.  The former is unlikely to be suitable for most eurosceptics but the latter may be feasible.  And this, essentially, is the precedent created by Juncker’s nomination.  Both his own European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats group have backed him, thereby giving him the support of a majority of MEPs.  A general consensus appears to have developed that this is the appropriate way for the position to be selected, which may become enshrined in law within the next five years.

To be clear, Juncker is far from the perfect candidate.  His preference for closed-doors diplomacy will do little to increase the EU’s transparency while his support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) won’t benefit democracy either on a national or a continental level.  Yet for the first time the President’s nomination has a degree of democratic legitimacy and indicates that, though there is still much to be done, the EU is continuing down a path which gives its citizens the final say on how it’s run.

Image credit: by Jean-Claude_Juncker_(2006).jpg: Martin Möller derivative work: IgnisFatuus (Jean-Claude_Juncker_(2006).jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

2014 England Local Elections Result

I’m incredibly late with this but I still want an excuse to put these results onto a table so here’s a short blog.  The local elections in England have since been massively overshadowed by the European Election results, but they can still give an insight into public mood at present.  The results were as follows:
[PNS = Projected National share]

2014 England Local Elections

As only a portion of councils are up for election (or a third of the council in some cases), these elections only elected 20.7% of councillors in the UK.  The overall composition is now:

Conservative: 8,300 seats (40.4%)
Labour: 7,147 seats (34.6%)
Lib Dem: 2,257 seats (11.0
%)
UKIP: 370 seats (1.8%)
Green: 170 seats (0.8%)
Others: 2321 seats (11.3%)
(Source: http://www.gwydir.demon.co.uk/uklocalgov/makeup.htm)

Essentially, another standard victory for opposition parties at the expense of governing parties, like you normally see in local elections.  Of all opposition parties Labour have made the most gains, winning far more councils and councillors than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.  However, the projected national share (a figure which suggests what the result would be were the election held nationally – if you know how it’s calculated I’d love to know!) will be a cause for concern for Labour.  With the general election less than a year away, they should be doing much better than 2% ahead of the Conservatives if they want to win an outright majority.  You can’t, of course, read too much into these voting figures, since in local elections people vote for entirely different reasons – or not at all – but it’s important in terms of morale.  These aren’t great results for the Conservatives but I imagine they can live with them, achieving a close second in PNS.  As ever, the Liberal Democrats have taken the greatest brunt of the anti-government vote, losing almost half their councillors in the wards up for election.  Yet the beleaguered party has managed to hold on to six of their eight councils, suggesting that in its strongholds, which may prove crucial next year, the party is holding onto support.  A good night for UKIP, of course, boosting their councillor count by 8,150% – a staggering figure.  But I continue to argue that UKIP’s result needs to be seen in context; their PNS is only 17%, down from around 23% last year, and they continue to suffer from the First Past the Post electoral system used in local elections.  Given UKIP achieved 27% in the European election held on the same day, this could indicate the party still lacks credibility on important local issues.  Finally, the Greens have managed to build on their previous result for something like the tenth year running, but continues to grow at a painfully slow pace.

Local elections are not the best barometer for how the country may vote next year, not least because of the unrepresentative sample they represent (in a close election the Scottish and Welsh vote could very possibly swing it in favour of Labour), but I think it does show how tight the next election could be.  The two major parties only achieved 60% between them, only slightly below where the parties combined polling figures currently lie.  That’s plenty of space for parties like UKIP, the Greens and what’s left of the Liberal Democrats to fill.  The most likely outcome remains another hung parliament.

First Anniversary

There are two pretty big anniversaries covered today, both from a year ago.  The first, which is probably of most relevance to readers, is that this blog is now a year old!  365 days, 220 posts, 10,548 views and 107 followers; it’s not famous yet by any means but has gone much further than I ever expected.  The blog is continuing to go through an unfortunate slump in activity as I continue to get to grips with university (my timekeeping seriously lacks something to be desired) yet I still seem to be getting views.  Views don’t equate to quality, of course, but it’s humbling to think people are even looking at the blog on a daily basis.

views

Although posts may be less frequent, I hope to return to posting about topics which interest me and engage further with the world community of bloggers.  Posts I currently have in mind include ‘What is Anthropology?’ based on my less than favourable impression of this bizarre subject, a look at the ages of world leaders, a fresher’s perspective on career prospects, a review of 2013 at New Year and intensive coverage of voting events ranging from by-elections, the European Parliament elections in May and the exciting Scottish independence referendum in September.  It’s a big year – watch this space!

The other anniversary marks a year of vegetarianism.  Despite the stray gelatine and one unfortunate incident where I tucked into half a chicken pie before thinking, “this doesn’t taste much like soya…” it’s been a remarkable success!  I charted my progress here and here, but even then I never expected to last so long.  “I could stop tomorrow,” I wrote back in December, while in January I admitted “I still believe I’ll eat meat again one day.”  The latter remains entirely possible, of course, although I find it difficult to imagine how it would occur.

So here’s to another productive, meat-free year!  I’ll see you next November 18th.