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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Leadership: Out of Touch With the Voters

BRUSSELS -- Jacques Delors, the president of the European Commission, is one of those smartly dressed politicians who seem to be a permanent fixture on the television screens of Europe. Yet I wager that a majority of Europeans could not say exactly what he does, how long he has been doing it, or even how he came by his $240,000 a year tax-free job. That is absurd and unhealthy. The commission is the executive arm of the European Union and the principal engineer of new EU legislation. The commission's decisions affect the lives of more than 300 million Europeans. It is no exaggeration to describe the presidency as one of the world's most important jobs. So how will Delors' successor be chosen? Next month, leaders of the 12 EU countries will fly down to the Greek island of Corfu. After a day or two of huddling together, striking backroom deals and posing for cameras, the leaders will announce the name of the winning candidate. It will be a little like the way that a conclave of cardinals chooses a new pope. There will be no democratic consultation whatsoever of ordinary people. Now, it may well be that European governments have excellent reasons for not turning the commission presidency into an elected position: most countries probably fear the move would confer such legitimacy upon the presidency that it would undermine the authority of individual national governments, legislatures and leaders. But I venture to suggest that present arrangements in the EU manage to achieve the worst of all worlds. The commission president is powerful but does not owe his job to the freely expressed will of the people. He is a remote figure to European electorates. He may also be tempted to take political initiatives without worrying about whether they command genuine public support. In short, it is a job that encourages arrogance in power. At the same time, Europeans will be asked soon to cast ballots for a new European parliament. Yet most voters understand that the parliament has always been less powerful than both the Commission and the Council of Ministers, which groups ministers from the governments of the 12 member-states. It is insulting to European voters to prod them into taking part in an almost meaningless election, while reserving the really important business for 12 men in short-sleeved shirts in the Adriatic. Many European countries went through an extremely rocky period in 1992 and last year as the 12 governments labored to ratify the Maastricht Treaty on European Union. Politicians assured their electorates at the time that they knew they had lost touch with the instincts and outlooks of ordinary Europeans. They humbly promised that they would not repeat the mistake. They have failed to keep their promise. From now until the Corfu meeting, tens of millions of European voters will be kept in the dark while the governments of Germany, France and the other 10 EU members jostle and haggle behind closed doors over who should replace Delors. There is a distinct shortage of democratic procedures in the EU that becomes all the more outrageous as European citizens are obliged to abide by more and more regulations drafted by unelected politicians. There is a remedy: To strengthen the powers of the European parliament. But if you think that will happen any time soon, then you do not know your EU.