By European Parliament from EU - Outside the European Parliament in Brussels, CC BY 2.0,

Evolutionary processes may deliver paradoxical results. According to the law of the handicap of the head start, which the Dutch historian Jan Romein formulated in the first half of the 20th century,[1] an achievement, which forms a significant step forward in one stage, may constitute a stumbling block in the next phase of the process.

The handicap of the head start

The evolution of the European Union offers a fine example of the law of the handicap of the head start. The example in point has been accentuated by the jump forward in the evolution of European democracy, which the 2019 elections for the European Parliament brought about. In my previous blog I argued that, thanks to the 2019 EP-elections, European democracy has come of age. Many observers believe that the so-called Spitzenkandidaten practice has played a major role in the outcome. The lead candidate procedure was introduced at the 2014 EP-elections and implies that each party will be represented at Union level by one candidate. So, at the 2019 elections Manfred Weber from Germany was the lead-candidate for the Christian-Democrats, Frans Timmermans from The Netherlands performed this task for the Social-Democrats and Margrethe Vestager from Denmark did the job for the Liberals [2] They confronted each other in discussions all over the Union in their bid to become the next President of the European Commission.

EU paradoxes

In view of its resounding success it is the more disappointing that the Spitzenkandidatenprocedure is in fact democratic make-believe. During the 2019 elections it was not possible for a EU citizen of Dutch descend to cast his vote on a Danish candidate and it was equally impossible for a French national to vote for a German hopeful. Actually, no EU citizen could vote for a Spitzenkandidat except for the fellow nationals of that candidate.

I have tried to address this ‘mother of all EU-paradoxes’ in a treatise, which I set out to write with a view to describe the origins and emergence of the present form of EU governance from a civic perspective. In The Rise of European Democracy, which can be read in full via this link The Rise of European Democracy, I analyse the evolution of the EC/EU from an organisation of democratic states to a European democracy. The 1976 decision to empower the citizens of the member states of the then European Communities to chose the members of the European Parliament through direct elections was the first major step forward in the democratisation of the EU. Consequently, the European Parliament became the first European institution with a direct link with the citizens and symbolised the intention of the emerging polity to obtain democratic legitimacy.

Champion of European democracy

Half a century onward the proud flagship of European democracy is trailing behind the fleet. The democratisation of the EU has gathered so much pace that politicians and scholars alike have hardly been able to catch up! The 2007 Lisbon Treaty fundamentally changed the nature of the European Parliament by creating a direct link between the citizens of the Union and their parliament. In doing so the Lisbon Treaty implemented the transition of the European Communities to the EU. So, article 10 para 2 TEU unequivocally states that the ‘citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament’. In line with the law of the handicap of the head start, however, the EP itself has not yet succeeded in adapting the rules concerning the elections of its members to the clear and coherent provisions of the Lisbon Treaty. In consequence, the citizens of the EU are still casting their votes for the European Parliament in their capacity of subjects of the member states. This contradictory state of affairs turns the entire Spitzenkandidaten-procedure into a mockery of democracy. If the EP wants to regain the position of champion of European democracy, it has to confirm the rules concerning the election of its members to the Lisbon Treaty. It has to live up to this challenge during the forthcoming legislature or face jeopardising the democratic credentials of the EU altogether!

[1] The dialectics of progress, in originali: De dialectiek van de vooruitgang, in Het onvoltooid verleden, available in the library

[2] Unfortunately, the Liberals have not always been unequivocal in this respect.

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