Third term for Commission president is one too many

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The five-year mandate of the present European Commission President expires 31 October 2014. Contrary to the restrictive provisions concerning the president of the European Council and the members of the Court of Justice, the EU Treaty is silent over the possibility of reinstating the Commission's presidents and members, writes Eberhard Rhein.

Eberhard Rhein is a former European Commission chef-de-cabinet for external relations and a lecturer on economic policy at the Mediterranean Academy for Diplomatic Studies in Malta. He is also a regular contributor to

"During the last 60 years most Commission presidents and members have served only one term, and there is no precedent for a president to have served more than two mandates.

Not surprisingly, the recent declarations by President José Manuel Barroso, which leave open a certain readiness on his part for a third term, have provoked a debate on the issue.

Constitutionally, it is up to the European Council to designate the next Commission president in the summer of 2014, taking into account the parliamentary elections in May.

The main parties represented in the European Parliament have expressed a willingness to nominate and campaign for their candidate, and the European Council will find it difficult not to designate the candidate from the party having obtained most votes, especially if this candidate also happens to reflect majorities in major member states.

While it is absolutely open who the next Commission president will be, it is worthwhile to weigh the pros and cons of re-appointing an incumbent for a third time and creating a precedent for more permanence at the head of the EU's executive.

The function of Commission president is no doubt the most demanding political job in Europe. It requires extraordinary physical and mental stamina and a rare combination of political leadership, management and language skills. The number of qualified candidates is therefore much smaller than for the function of Commissioner.

This gives a natural edge to any incumbent embodying long national and European political experience, as those who make the decision will be wary of choosing an unknown newcomer.

But the argument for change remains powerful. Europe is in dire need of fresh blood and novel ways to address a complex future. The Commission can no longer operate business as usual, as it risks turning into a political behemoth. It must redefine its role, become leaner and stop thinking that its main role is the distribution of money. It must above all regain lost confidence with European citizens and establish a better balance between European and national functions.

The next Commission president should be above all a “strategist” able and willing to chart a long- term future for the EU. That demands charisma, focus and the delegation of powers.

For these reasons it is not wise to keep a president for more than 10 years. He or she are bound to come up with the same old solutions and lack the courage and inspiration of novelty.

Europe needs to look for new faces and approaches. The party leaders in the European Parliament should therefore agree with the European Council that 10 years in office should be enough for any Commission president."

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