French presidential candidate proposes EU changes
Sarkozy keen on radical shake up of EU institutions
08.09.2006 - 18:09 CET | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - French presidential hopeful
Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed radical EU reforms such
as getting the European Commission president to pick
his own commissioners and cross-border European
Parliament elections - but first he wants a new EU
Mr Sarkozy, currrently the French interior minister,
on Friday (8 September) delivered a high-profile
speech at the Friends of Europe think-tank during a
visit to Brussels, which seemed designed to boost his
campaign for the 2007 presidential elections in
The energetic politician said the bloc should act
"urgently" to overcome its institutional stalemate by
reiterating earlier calls for a "mini treaty"
containing important elements of the EU constitution -
rejected by French and Dutch voters in referendums
But Mr Sarkozy also injected fresh elements in the
longer-term debate on the EU's institutional
architecture, notably by proposing a radical reform of
the European Commission.
In the EU's current Nice treaty, each member state has
the right to appoint one commissioner, while the
shelved constitution sought to limit the number of
commissioners on the basis of equal rotation between
Mr Sarkozy stated however that the principle of
national capitals appointing commissioners "does not
guarantee neither the efficiency nor the legitimacy"
of the EU executive.
"Why aren't we bold...and leave the composition of the
commission to its president?...after all, it's on the
basis of this logic that national governments are
In Mr Sarkozy's vision, the commission president would
himself be elected by the European Parliament - which
would provide him with a democratic mandate.
Once elected, the commission chief could then pick his
or her own commissioners, which would enable the body
to "function like a real team around its president."
Cross-border MEPs lists
The proposals are however likely to raise eyebrows
particularly from smaller member states, who would be
deprived of any guarantee that they have
representation in the commission - while any new
commission chief would probably not dare to offend
France, Germany or the UK by not picking one of their
Mr Sarkozy already caused some alarm in small and
mid-size member states last year by proposing that the
EU's "big six" should together take up a leading role
in the union -an idea which he repeated on Friday.
Meanwhile, the French politician, who is the leader of
France's centre-right UMP party, also proposed to set
up transnational candidate lists for European
Parliament elections, based on common political
"In every member state, the questions debated remain
essentially national. There is no European campaign,"
he said, hoping that EU-wide lists would create
genuine European debate.
France and Germany should pioneer the scheme with
cross-border political platforms in the 2009
elections, according to Mr Sarkozy.
Turkey and the constitution
But the most "urgent" matter for the union to solve at
the moment is the deadlock on the EU constitution, he
said, repeating proposals made in January for a
slimmed-down version of the charter to be ratified by
the French parliament.
The "mini treaty" would include key parts of the
constitution such as its voting rights provisions and
plans to create an EU foreign minister, on which there
is a "large consensus."
"It would provide a way out for those countries that
voted 'no' without humilitating those who voted
'yes'," he said, adding that the French EU presidency
in 2009 should finalise the text.
On enlargement, he stressed that the EU should fix its
borders, telling Western Balkan countries that they
can join once the EU has sorted out its institutional
problems - but he said that Turkey should stay out.
"We should now say who is European and who isn't," he said.