For the past several weeks, attention was focused on the war in Iraq and on the fault lines within Europe that the conflict exposed. But at the same time--perhaps because no one was looking--a critical breakthrough occurred in the Convention for the Future of Europe, where the European Union's new constitution is being framed.
Representatives of 16 countries--Austria, Ireland, Portugal, the three Scandinavian countries, and the ten states that will join the EU in May 2004--submitted a proposal, in the form of a declaration, that calls for preserving the EU's current delicate institutional balance. They recommend retaining the European Commission as the proto-executive branch, the European Council to speak for national interests, and the European Parliament as the institution that represents Europe's citizens directly. They reaffirm member states' equality by defending the Council's rotating presidency.
But, in addition to avoiding destructive changes, the proposal suggests a way forward for the Convention. Specifically, it recommends a way to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the Commission by allowing its president to be elected either by the Parliament or by an electoral college that also includes representatives from national parliaments.
This proposal is far superior to its predecessors. Germany and France have proposed a system with two elected presidents--a Council president elected by its members and a Commission president elected by the European Parliament. This is a strikingly bad idea. Creating a two-headed executive of this sort would guarantee continuous clashes between the two power centers.