R1-M7: The Da Vinci System VS SchEUmans

Future of Europe

Welcome to Round 1 of the Future of Europe E-Debate Competition!

The topic for the 1st debate is:

The President of the European Council should be elected by EU citizens.

In this debate The Da Vinci System (Affirmative) will face SchEUmans (negative).

The 1st debater of the affirmative team has 24 hours to post the 1st speech of the debate. Even if the speech is posted before the 24 hours expire, the 1st negative speakers’ 24 hours of preparation time will begin when the initial time expires.

Before posting please consult Guildelines and the Online Debate Guide.

Good luck to all teams!


I thank both team for this debate.

This was a tricky debate to adjudicate, probably the closest one in this round of debates, but ultimately I sided with the proposition team, The Da Vinci System.

Both teams bring very solid ideas and arguments to the debate, some explained well and given proper weight/impact, while others remain a little underdeveloped.

On the one hand, proposition presents some fairy broad arguments, about raising political engagement, making people feel like their voice matters in the EU, transparency of EU institutions and eventually creating a stronger EU identity. Opposition points out a lot of potential problems or risk with such a change, like populism becoming a factor in the elections, the tendency to vote for local candidates, or just feel unrepresented and expanding upon what this position means and why it doesn’t make sense to have direct elections for this role.

While I don’t feel that proposition fully tackles these problems in the second speech (“they have to be objective and impartial”, why and how does this happen? Or “they never elect a nationalistic politician or a radical one”, why not?), opposition also doesn’t fully impact on these ideas. Of course, potential downsides exist, but how likely are they? I do believe some of these claims and yes, there probably will be some problems, I’m not convinced of their seriousness or impact on society overall (what happens if a “populist” politician gets elected? What is the impact of expensive political campaigns, held every 2,5 years?). Opposition successfully casts a shadow of a doubt on the proposition claims, but doesn’t succeed in proving that the motion has more potential to create harm, rather than benefits.

This is a short summary of the debate and there are further intricacies that can be discussed, but overall I do feel that the proposition team, The Da Vinci System, wins by a small margin.

Speaker points:

1st Affirmative: 23 (Content: 9; Style: 7; Strategy: 7)
2nd Affirmative: 17 (Content: 7; Style: 5; Strategy: 5)

1st Negative: 21 (Content: 8; Style: 7; Strategy: 6)
2nd Negative: 18 (Content: 7; Style: 6; Strategy: 5)

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    The entire political existence of the EU is based on an institutional structure which clearly depicts the co-existence of both the intergovernmental and the supranational role of the EU; in this institutional framework both the EU citizens and the Member States are represented, with the latter being represented by their democratically elected governments.
    The role of the European Council in this framework is to set the EU’s overall strategic direction and priorities (Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union); the President of the European Council serves mainly as the chair of the body with his role being of a predominantly administrative nature, while no direct representation responsibilities seem to be attributed to the holder of the position. This clearly shows that the legitimacy of the President of the European Council on the basis of any alleged anonymity or distance from the citizens of the “electoral body” appointing that person cannot be challenged in reality since an election process has already taken place in advance in the Member States.
    Providing an in principle bureaucratic argument, direct elections taking place every two and a half years would potentially deepen the anti-EU criticism movement on the grounds of such electoral processes being too costly both on the national and the EU level. According to BBC and the UK National Agency for Elections more than £109 million were allocated for the European Parliament elections that took place in 2014. Let’s imagine now this number doubled and multiplied by 28 for every Member State with a repetition rate of 2.5 years.
    Furthermore, it has been indicated by researches that, when electing a President -in any potential context or leadership structure- the party in which the candidate belongs to plays little to no role at the election process. On the contrary, a charismatic character or a well-delivered political agenda can definitely win the part. Such methods, though, do not enhance the aim of promoting common European parties or a unified political agenda; neither does this method prohibit the national parties from using the elections for the President of the European Council as a platform of national political debate. We certainly and most profoundly need pan-European political parties, but in those institutions, such as the European Parliament, where they can have an effect and bring a change.
    Last but not least, it is imperative for the debate to clearly distinguish populism from nationalism and national interests from nationalism. The European Council is the institution, which -as it has been accused of several times- aims to mainly represent the Member States; by no means, though, does that imply that it is an institution subjected to nationalism. An election process involving a President, whose responsibilities should be enhanced if elected by the citizens, could open the doors for personal polarized campaigns and populism. The EU has always been a product of compromise and consensus from the 1950s until our days; all those advancements and progress have been built owing to the will of Member States to provide the European Union with defined competences and its institutions with specific mandate.
    Yes, nobody can deny that a gap between people and the European Union exists and there is a constant rise of Euroscepticism, but no data can link this to the notion of a potentially “undemocratic” European Council. Therefore, a direct election process of the President of the European Council will not solve the issue pertaining to public legitimacy or perception of the EU. It will not democratise the Union. The EU needs a deep-rooted democratisation but not a misleading one. It needs radical steps and political willingness that will actually bring the citizens closer to the Union. Nevertheless, a direct election of the President of the European Council is not one of them.

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    The Da Vinci System

    The EU has delivered more than half a century of peace, stability and prosperity, helped raise living standards.In the last years, a wave of Euroscepticism occurred. There is not a direct connection between people’s choices and the EU representatives. People lost their trust in European institutions because their opinion is not listened by European organs.
    The current system creates a gap between people and European Union.
    People don't believe in European cohesion anymore because they are not directly involved in electing the person who represents them. They are represented indirectly by the President of the European Council. When people go and vote, they feel their opinion matters. Their participation at voting procedure creates an incentive for them to be more involved in what EU decides for them, they would try to understand better what EU does, how it works and why it has an indispensable role in their lives. This would boost activism among EU citizens and would rise awareness in what concerns Euroscepticism. A European citizen is a secluded pawn on the EU table. A democracy is the "power of the people", is a tool of expressing views, opinions and preferences. Stealing this power from people will make them feel ignored, like their opinions do not matter.
    On the other hand, many people are skeptical in what concerns leaders of European Union. Why? They don't know how imposing figures such as Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron etc occupied those political positions, because there is not enough transparency about the procedure that brought those people there . This legitimizes them to wonder whether those people deserve their seats. When people vote the most suitable candidate, they will verify easily if the candidate respect his promises and will be easier to initiate a change if the President did not fulfill European aims. At the moment it is very hard to determine irregularities in political activities.
    Furthermore, every European citizen will be able to candidate, no matter the country he comes from. Politicians from smaller states would be able to candidate and to be elected by European citizens. In this way, the message “ politics is for everyone” will be transmitted. Politicians from big countries will not be able to lure all the European citizens, therefore every candidate will have a fair mechanism to become the President of the European Council.
    In response to what the Opposition team affirmed, the politicians will not be interested in promoting their political ideology and will not incentivise nationalism because they have to be objective and impartial. Moreover, if European citizens will elect the President of the European Council, they will never elect a nationalistic politician or a radical one. People elect the person who could represent them better, preserve European values and create cooperation and cohesion.
    2. How will parties concentrate more on European issues?
    Each country has its number of seats in European political structures. Therefore, parties are not interested in boosting European unity and cooperation, but in winning national support and sending their representatives to spread their ideology in European institutions. The President will initiate discussions in order to incentivise cooperation, unity, security and sustainability on long term, and people will consider him legitimate because he was elected following a democratic procedure.
    Parties will have more transparent campaigns during the elections period, and people will follow easily their activities. In time, this will consolidate trust among European citizens. European Union needs to play the fair actor.
    3.What is the impact on the European institutions?
    The new president will boost the cooperation among European institutions that are not very incentivised to do it now. "The man of the people" will engage massive European discussions that will involve many European institutions interested in creating cohesion and cooperation. The President of the European Council is the representative of European Union, therefore he coordinates and moderates the discussions during meetings. His interests will be exclusively in boosting cooperation between European institutions and destroy any political games inside on them.

    A big family is a place where the leader is elected by the family members. Political games appear in a variety of forms, sometimes, very hard to be identified and stopped. A system has legitimacy when its leaders are chosen by majority, not by political structures which kills the credibility.

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    The European ideal has been challenged for the past decade by multiple crises and the perception of EU institutions being paralysed to appropriate measures; this has resulted in the rapid rise of Euroscepticism among the EU citizens. The direct election of the people holding the leadership of EU institutions has been mentioned as a way to enhance democracy within the EU.

    Even though institutional democratisation and transparency are always welcome, it is crucial that they align with the institution’s aim in concreto within the EU system of governance. Article 15 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) restrictively outlines the responsibilities of the European Council’s President empowering him with a facilitating, mediating and representative role within and outside the European Council. What is most important though is that the President can hold no national office while acting in his capacity; this establishes a supranational character to the EU’s most intergovernmental body and detaches the holder of the position with any political or state affiliations.

    Closely connected to that is the fact that direct election of the European Council’s President by the EU citizens via the notion proposed by the Affirmative team, leads to a clear connection of candidates with specific political ideologies and national parties’ campaigns. In such a traditional system, as proposed, it is almost impossible to strip an electoral procedure by partisan ideals as well as communicational strategies and tricks; therefore, the danger of even greater waves of populism rising within the EU lurks stronger in such a system. Additionally, let us not forget that the European Union consists of 28 –for the time being- Member States which all have different legal and political cultures, traditions, even languages. It is quite possible in such an electoral system people to vote primarily based on the proximity of each candidate’s mandate to their national interest; at the same time, there is the risk of people being left out of the processes which will result in even greater waves of Euroscepticism and electoral abstention in other EU procedures. Moving past the election procedure per se, should the proposed motion is established, the President would be stripped off the mediating and facilitating role and would strive to fulfil the pre-selection promises made.

    Further regarding the popular legitimacy of the European Council’s decisions, it is imperative not to neglect a crucial fact; the people participating in it. The European Council composes of the Head of States or Governments of the Member States who are either elected directly by the citizens or are validated by the people’s representatives, the national parliaments. The members of the Council are thus directly trusted and mandated by their nationals to deliberate on and shape the EU strategy. Directly electing the President, a facilitating member of the European Council, would not provide the body with any additional democratic legitimacy per se.

    Moving past that, there is an additional fallacy in the Affirmative team’s rather solid argumentation and that is the connection of the lack of governmental character by the EU institutions with national interests as expressed by the European Council. Taking into consideration the role of the President of the European Council, even if this person is eventually elected directly by the EU citizens, the decisions on the Unions strategy will be concluded by the Head of States and Governments of the Member States. At the same time, there is not such a margin of appreciation regarding the President’s powers in order for that person to be able to actively strengthen them, while at the same time democratic validation of this person cannot be guaranteed, especially in the case of low voters’ turnout.

    Last but not least, democratisation and active participation should have an immediate impact on the everyday life of the EU citizens and not just be typical promises. More specifically, while the direct election of the members of other EU bodies, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission, might have a stronger impact taking into consideration that those bodies can legislate on issues immediately related to everyday life, the President of the European Council remains a facilitator of discussions and processes. Such symbolic moves result in a falsified sense of democratic participation aiming to establish a plasmatic legitimacy within the EU, while it has become obvious that the citizens cannot effectively determine the outcome of the European Council’s deliberations. True democracy lies with the power to bring change, not with the ability to establish political symbols.

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    The Da Vinci System

    The EU, the greatest institution in preserving peace, prosperity and freedom, is under siege. Euroscepticism, fueled by nationalistic propaganda and illiberalism, is slowly deconstructing this political project.

    It is worth establishing some elements of context towards whether The President of the European Council should be elected by EU citizens:
    The role of the President, as enshrined by Article 15 TEU, is mostly a political one, with power being highly divided in the EU across its institutions;

    Elections lead to leader figures which can build consensus across the EU, which would:

    (1) Lower euroscepticism through greater democratic participation;

    From 2007 to 2012 trust in the European Union has fallen from +10 to -22 percent in France, from +20 to -29 percent in Germany, from +30 to -22 percent in Italy, from +42 to -52 percent in Spain and from +50 to +6 percent in Poland.

    Turnout has also been declining, from a promising 62% in 1979 to a shameful 46% in 2014. Participation hasn’t crossed the 50% threshold since 1994!

    a. Several Europeans see EU as an imperialistic initiative meant to control them. If all EU citizens could have a say in who will be the perceived leader of the EU, popular legitimacy would be easier to gain.
    b. Political parties have no stake in placing European interests above national interests as, although there are European elections, they take place at a national level. If the motion would be passed the following would happen: National parties would invest more funds in European parties in order for the latter to have grater campaign power across EU. As there would be only one champion of these elections, the political stakes would be very high. As you can’t win with the votes of a single country, campaigns would have to take place in several countries. This would ensure that parties have greater incentives to accurately portray the EU to their citizens as misportrayal would mean they don’t have a voter base to offer to European parties and therefore have no power of negotiation.
    c. Any person who wants to be elected would have to campaign in all member states and will have greater incentives to become a “man of the people”. They would have to act in the interest of their constituents and have high media visibility in fighting for them.

    The political system of incentives would function similarly to that of choosing a president in a parliamentary democracy. Although the president’s powers are severely limited, with the Parliament having all legislative authority, the Prime Minister and Government most of the executive and international negotiations authority, parties still fight to win the presidency and presidential elections still have the highest turnouts.

    2. Further European integration, shifting the power balance from member states towards the EU;

    Seeing that the EU plans towards a single currency and a borderless space, and acknowledging that the Treaty of Lisbon is the de facto constitution of the EU, we have to ask ourselves: Isn’t EU a state?

    According to the Declaratory Theory of Statehood there are four criteria for being a state: population, territory, government and capacity to enter relations. Out of these elements there is only one which does not fully apply: independent government.

    The reason for the EU system of institution not qualifying as an independent government is the fact that there are parts of it, like the European Council, which ensure the EU is still subservient to national interests. As with any other EU reform, which tries to balance out the complications of driving together so many states with so many cultural differences, it takes time. This motion would not instantly transform the EU in a state but would create the context for such a change to unravel. Why? Because any person who wins the elections would be incentivized to reform the presidency by growing its power while also having legitimacy for gaining popular support for such changes.