EU chief wriggles over questions of legitimacy of ‘undemocratic’ European Commission

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During a citizens’ dialogue in Helsinki, Finland, Frans Timmermans, the First-Vice President of the Commission, was challenged over the legitimacy of the institution. 

Taking the EU representative to task,  the Finnish citizen demanded to know why Jyrki Katainen had been allowed to become the country’s commissioner as he resigned as prime minister after “failing” in the leading role.

The appointment of the former PM immediately after he quit made the Commission look bad, he said, before arguing it showed the EU was an undemocratic institution.

The Fin said: “When I think of European values, I think of democracy and I would like to ask you question about the legitimacy of the European Commission.

“In my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong in anything, the European Commission has the legislative power of the European Union, it is not elected democratically, it is only confirmed by the democratically elected European Parliament.”

He continued: “And each member state gets one commissioner and we have our former prime minister Jyrki Katainen and he kind of failed in his job as prime minister if Finland, quit and immediately got a commissioner position that nets him 30,000 Euros a month.

“Where was the democratic process in that and do you see how these kind of things make the EU look bad and undemocratic to the regular people?”

The EU Commission is made up by 28 representatives, which are appointed by the institution’s president based on recommendations made by the European Parliament’s member states.

Seemingly unprepared for the challenge, Mr Timmermans responded with a rambling answer in which he claimed the Commission was completely legitimate because it operated on the mandate provided by the European Council.

Mr Timmermans said: “We don’t legiferate the commission, we make proposals.

“The ones who legiferate are the European Parliament and the member states in council, so that is where the law-making power is.

“The European Commission is an institution based on the treaty.

“The treaty was signed and ratified by all member states and that’s where they stipulate how commissioners compose how it should function, what it’s roles are.

“We operate strictly within the limits of the treaty that was signed and ratified by national parliaments.”

The Dutch politician also brushed the question off as something “only Eurosceptics” would ask, as he poked fun at claims the Commission was made up of unelected representatives.

He continued: “What I find interesting is that it’s always the people, I don’t know if you’re in that camp, but usually when I get this question about this ‘unelected’ bureaucrat institution it’s mostly the people who don’t want the European Union, who complain about the commission not being elected because the last thing they want is a really European government.

“Now we are unelected but we have a direct democratic mandate because we cannot operate without a majority support in the European Parliament.”