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“Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?”

The former US Foreign Minister Henry Kissinger is said to have made this statement. It sums up a leadership question that urgently needs to be clarified.

 

Representatives of the EU institutions: Roberta Metsola, Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen, Josep Borrell

From left to right: Roberta Metsola, Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen, Josep Borrell.

They represent the most important EU institutions. But who actually holds the highest position in the EU?

 

The quote "Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?" is relatively old and is often used in the context of the EU's lack of leadership. In EU circles, it has become a standard quote.


However, Henry Kissinger probably never said the sentence. At least he can no longer remember it. The quote probably comes from an Irish foreign minister.


Who ultimately said the phrase is less important. The question is who should actually lead the EU through difficult times and crises.



So, who to call?

Actually, the answer to this could be quite simple: the President of the EU Commission, of course. The Commission takes on the role of the executive at the European level and could be compared to a national government.


But as often, the answer is not so simple.


The European treaties do not designate a single person to head the EU. Who would be the European equivalent of Joe Biden in the United States or Xi Jinping in China?


There is the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Council Charles Michel, President of the Parliament Roberta Metsola and also the EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell. And alongside them, the various heads of state and government compete for the highest influence in the EU.



This power poker prevents important reforms

This unclear balance of power is highly problematic for the EU. There are too many actors who can block everything with their veto.


Important laws and projects often cannot be implemented for years (and often, unfortunately, decades). Trade agreements are not concluded, geopolitically important projects are not implemented and preventive measures for crises are not realised. And all this only because a few European governments object at a time.


Other states can use these power struggles, divide the EU and thus prevent Europe from properly representing its interests. The list of prevented projects, necessary reforms and geopolitical failures is long.


This problem could be solved by a clear distribution of power at EU level. If Europeans elected the president of the EU Commission, this government would be democratically legitimised and would represent the will of the citizens. If this president drew a certain vision for the future of the EU in the election campaign and was elected for it, individual states would no longer be able to block these projects simply because it suits them.



So, what to do?

The best thing, of course, would be a reform of the EU Treaties. It would have to be established that the President of the EU Commission is elected by the Parliament or the people.


However, a reform is currently not foreseeable. Therefore, for the time being, at least the procedure of the "Spitzenkandidaten" should be enforced. This procedure has existed since 2014, with the European parties each proposing a candidate for the presidency and the party that receives the most votes in the European elections accordingly providing the president of the EU Commission.


However, the heads of state and government disregarded this procedure in the last European election in 2019 and nominated Ursula von der Leyen. That was not really democratic.


It should not happen again in the next election in 2024. The democratic will of the Europeans must be respected.




 

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