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Tehran not likely to accept results of any UN investigation into attacks on Saudi oil facilities, foreign minister says. Document shows Germany, France, Italy and Malta poised to seal agreement that could be extended to others. Their beef: the failure by EU leaders to nominate Bavarian politician Manfred Weber or another so-called Spitzenkandidat as president of the European Commission.
Such an action would be an immature gesture by an adolescent Parliament that seems to care more about flexing its muscles than using its brain to consider what it wants to be when it grows up.
Europe is a hybrid democracy — a union of states and peoples. The nominee needs an absolute majority in Parliament to be appointed. Parliament managed to dictate the choice to the Council in by instituting the Spitzenkandidat system — a convention that the lead candidate of the group which wins the most seats in the legislature should automatically be the first choice for Commission president. The showdown over von der Leyen is not about the pure light of democracy versus a shady backroom political stitch-up, as it has been portrayed particularly in the German media. It was an uninspired choice, so much so that Weber was not even able to secure a majority in Parliament behind his candidacy — despite the institutional incentive to rally behind him.
That meant Weber was only on the ballot paper in his native Germany. His name recognition outside the German-speaking world is minimal. The EPP prevented transnational lists not for the sake of democracy but to keep power in the hands of the incumbent mainstream parties that run Parliament, and make it harder for French President Emmanuel Macron to build an EU-wide support base. Ironically, the loudest objections to this deal are coming from Germany. This has everything to do with domestic politics and the desperate state of the leaderless SPD — and nothing to do with democracy in Europe.
So why are so many lawmakers thinking of rebelling against her appointment? For some, the reasons are ideological — nationalists hate her European federalism, Greens find no evidence in her record of concern for climate change or the environment.
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But for many, this is just about asserting the power of the Parliament to hijack the nomination process, whatever the treaty says. Parliament was able to do that last time around because of a backroom deal struck between the EPP and the Socialists, the institution's second-largest party. If rule one of all parliaments is to seize as much power as possible from the executive, rule two is never to let go of it once you have got it. Rule three is that if you do have to back down, make sure you grab some other power in compensation. That may be the real agenda behind the threat to blackball von der Leyen.
There are other powers that the European Parliament covets but does not have under the treaty. These include the right to initiate legislation, which lies solely with the Commission, and the right to raise taxes, which is the monopoly of national governments. Neither of those prerogatives can be secured without amending the EU treaty. And, given the high risk of referendum defeats, there is little appetite among national governments for treaty change.
But von der Leyen could offer Parliament an olive branch by making a political commitment that the Commission will propose legislation on any policy issue within its legal competence if a majority of lawmakers request it. That would go beyond an existing treaty provision — Article of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, for those following along at home — that says the Commission may agree or refuse to submit the proposal requested.
Some national governments would not like it, but they have effectively asserted similar power through the Eurogroup, the informal body of finance ministers that manages the eurozone. And since they would retain a veto as co-legislators, they would be ill placed to object.
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