After the European elections over four weeks ago, there was a great deal of enthusiasm: 200 million Europeans, just over half of those eligible to vote, went to the polls - a celebration of democracy when compared to the turnout in the last elections. In Poland, for example, the turnout doubled.
The main takeaways of the election results are threefold: despite its losses, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) - the EPP Group - is clearly the strongest group with 182 members. In more than half of EU Member States, an EPP party is the strongest force. This means a mandate and legitimacy for my party’s family and for me as a candidate for the office of President of the European Commission. Second, the vast majority of Europeans reject any significant influence of radical forces, from both left and right. They want a strong Europe in the political centre. Third, there is a broad desire for change towards a better EU, an EU closer to its citizens and a more efficient EU. This must become a commitment for decision-makers. I remain committed to the election promises for more security, for more fairness and for decisive climate protection.
The EPP has chosen a bold path. Four-fifths of the party’s congress delegates supported me as a candidate; we ran the most sophisticated Europe-wide campaign, and my candidacy had a real impact on election campaigns in a number of countries - not just in Germany. It was completely transparent for the EPP who and which political profile should lead the new European Commission. Every voter had the chance to know who should be responsible if the EPP won the election: Manfred Weber as President of the European Commission.
And where are we today? Some in the European Council want to simply take the idea of the lead candidate principle - i.e. that only a candidate who has presented him or herself before the election can become President of the European Commission - off the table. The result of the election would be irrelevant. The massive increase in turnout would suddenly no longer play a role. Transparency and democracy would be a thing of the past. The EU is well on its way to a return to decision-making done in the backroom. The frustration of voters is foreseeable. The consequences for European democracy, for the EU as a whole, would be devastating. Some radicals would inevitably profit from it. Then the losers of the European elections would suddenly be the winners.
The EU has a basic problem: it is perceived as a black box which people have no control over but whose decisions they have to live with. That’s why my main goal is to bridge the gap between ‘Brussels’ and the citizens. There’s nothing new to invent; we just have to dare to exercise democracy. The European Parliament, which represents 500 million Europeans, is the key. The people choose in which direction Europe should go. The nomination of lead candidates by the European parties gives a face to these political tendencies.
The lead candidate principle is certainly not perfect; but it is by far the best idea for democratising the EU, by once and for all making responsibilities clear and by making decisions public. Of course, this democratisation cannot be compared to a national democracy. Democracy at EU level is growing bit by bit and is not merely a reflection of national systems. But fundamental principles, such as telling people before the election what they can expect or that the biggest political force will have a mandate for leadership, are a huge step forward. A European democracy must be able to develop. And it is doing quite well, if one thinks of the continuous strengthening of the European Parliament. Generations of MEPs have fought successfully for this. I am not ready to turn my back now on these democratic achievements. I want to go forward. That’s why I’m open to talking about further ideas, if they are well thought-out.
Since the European Council, the lead candidate principle has supposedly been buried. So far, those who are destructive and want to prevent something have prevailed. Constructive approaches and proposals which would also have a chance of being accepted in the European Parliament remain a long way off. Apart from this, the substantive disunity of the Council, for instance on climate change, shows how necessary and ambitious the European Parliament is for overcoming the blockades. Last week was the week of the European Council. This week is the week of the European Parliament. We parliamentarians will decide whether a Europe of the people is just a phrase or a reality. We are fighting for a democratic Europe. That’s what the EPP Group stands for. There is no way around the European Parliament.
For the moment, however, it seems to me that the European Parliament is being outnumbered and that it is key parliamentarians who are mainly commenting on what is happening from the sidelines. If we do not cooperate, if we do not play together, it is the influence of Parliament, and thus of voters, which is affected. At least in the crucial final minutes of the match, the European Parliament must be fully engaged on the pitch. The EPP Group is ready to cooperate and compromise on content and on questions of personnel, as long as the outcome of the European elections does not become an absurdity.
Only if we succeed in making Europe more democratic and in bringing it to the people will Europe have a good future. If Europe’s democratisation fails, the EU can be seriously threatened as well. Because people want to have a say and an influence. They no longer accept things being decided outside the public space and without their participation. It’s not yet too late. But we need a bold and clear reaction from the European Parliament.
Manfred Weber (46) is the EPP’s Europe-wide lead candidate for the office of President of the European Commission.
This Op-ed was first published in the German daily DIE WELT.
(Translation from the original German)
The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 179 Members from 26 Member States