R1-M8: Team Laute Europaer VS TeamBG4

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 Team Laute Europaer (Affirmative) will face TeamBG4 (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 teams for this debate.

It was a fairly close debate, but ultimately I sided with the opposition, TeamBG4 (EU Prosperity).

To sum up, I think both teams bring valuable ideas to the debate, but they are not always developed fully. I found that team proposition spent too much time/space describing mechanisms and potential outcomes, rather than trying to prove why a positive/beneficial outcome is most likely.

Opposition mostly points this out, by showing that “symbols”, for example, can have wonderful and abhorrent connotations at the same time and that we have no control over how a symbol is ultimately perceived. But the opposition team also doesn’t try to prove that such a symbolic ‘leader’ for the EU would probably be a “divisive” symbol.

I do find that the proposition brings a lot of valid ideas, like the incentive to make the process more ‘transparent’ or being accountable to the european constituents. I would have like to hear more on these points, like how this incentive would word, what “making the process more transparent” means in practice and why it will probably happen. The fact that the leader could be held accountable doesn’t mean it’s a likely scenario, or one that has inherent benefits.

In contrast, the opposition team seems to be more grounded in reality, questioning the need for such a process, if it’s useful or legitimate to elect someone with such a specific job description, the fact that there might already be EU leaders that fill this role (left mostly unexplained), and lastly, the difficulties that such an electoral campaign could pose (cost and reach).

The 2nd opposition speech continues the discussion on symbols, but as I previously stated, yes such a EU Council President could become a symbol of unity, but the probability of that happening or the ultimate impact of such a possibility is never fully explored.

And the final opposition speech brings more potential risks and downsides to the discussion, like the possibility of new “cultural divisions”, the problem of language barriers and so on. Again, I don’t feel like the potentiality of these scenarios is fully explored, or the on-the-ground-impact, but these ideas are legitimate and explained well, in concept.

Taking all of these aspects into account, I felt that the opposition team had a more persuasive perspective about why this could be harmful, or at best not very beneficial. In conclusion, the winners are TeamBG4 (EU Prosperity).

Speaker points:

1st Affirmative: 17 (Content: 7; Style: 5; Strategy: 5)
2nd Affirmative: 13 (Content: 5; Style: 4; Strategy: 4)

1st Negative: 19 (Content: 8; Style: 6; Strategy: 5)
2nd Negative: 18 (Content: 7; Style: 6; Strategy: 5)

  • Edit
    EU Prosperity

    There are a few reasons why we chose to compare the occupations of the European Council President and national presidents. First and foremost, we used the word “president” in the context of the general occident public sphere. Secondly, the proposed method of election, which is necessarily the same as presidential elections. And thirdly, the similarities between the occupations, namely the presiding, representing, and coordinating duties. We understand that the positions are not identical, we never claimed that to be the case, and we find it hard to understand why the affirming team would take issue with such a comparison when they would go on to compare the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs to a minister of foreign affairs, even though this position is also de facto sui generis.

    Due to the format’s limitations on characters, we assumed it would be more appropriate to address the practicalities of the proposition first and will now address the argument for symbolic power.

    We would like to give some examples, hoping you do not perceive them as any sort of “slippery slope” or “reductio ad hitlerum” arguments, as we simply mean to illustrate the subjective value of symbols. Let us first examine the meaning of the swastika. It goes without question that within the European cultural context, the swastika is perceived as a symbol of hate and particular political affiliations or views. On the other hand, we have the much older character associated with Jainism, perhaps the most pacifist major religion. What we’re alluding to is the different perception of nearly identical symbols across different times and cultures. Another example would be Roman style Catholic churches - a symbol of wealth and history to Catholics, of extortion and oppression to secularists, and of colonialism to Eritreans. In case these examples seem a bit anachronistic or one-dimensional, we would like to offer a modern favorite, namely the symbolic figure of Donald Trump. Within the same period of time and cultural setting, he became an anti-establishment candidate, rebelling against oligarchy, in the eyes of the republican voter base, meanwhile appearing as a manifestation of the status quo, plutocratic, or corporate, rule in the United States of America to the democratic base. We believe that these examples adequately represent the amorphous nature of symbols and why basing institutional changes on extravagant speculations, especially in a moment of political turbulence, carries risks. Above all, symbols are subject to interpretation, both internal and external. By this, we mean that despite our best intentions in creating a symbol of unity, the outcome is ultimately outside of our control.

    To further clarify, the risks lie specifically in the potential perceptions of such an action. Without a shadow of a doubt, there would be citizens, who would perceive this shift as a cheap tactic to appease people with legitimate concerns. However, this isn’t the most relevant issue. Rather, as we have observed over the past several years, countries within the union have different policy preferences based on their current economic situation, as well as, their future prospects. Here we are referring to the discussion surrounding the “Core and Periphery” of the European Union. Factoring in the language barrier and ability to effectively communicate campaign messages, new splits could arise, aside from the obvious Western and Eastern dichotomy, by virtue of the fact that people from the same language family can, at least partially, understand closely related languages (for example, within the Germanosphere, Latinosphere, and Slavisphere), which makes them target demographics. The problem lies in the fact that the population of all Slavic member states put together amounts to a thousand more people than the population of France, according to the latest statistics. Furthermore, according to languageknowledge.eu, Eastern European populations consistently rank as least able to use English and French per capita, the de facto lingua francae of the EU, displaying, that a prohibitive language barrier does exist. The enactment of this proposition for a popular vote would, most likely, lead to the least amount of representation of the most dissatisfied countries.

    Lastly, the affirming team has failed to provide us with any reason for why the position of President of the European Council would be the best fit for a popular election instead of, for example, the position of President of the European Commission, which is widely regarded as the most powerful office within the EU, and whose democratic election would certainly carry much higher representative symbolic value.

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    EU Prosperity

    We would like to commend the affirming team’s analysis of the key issues of the debate, in good faith. We also agree that there are, in fact, issues concerning political representation, accountability, and the international relations of the European Union. Yet, we remain unconvinced of the utility of a directly elected President of the European Council for several reasons.
    Before discussing them, however, we must first reexamine the aforementioned office’s functions in a comparative manner, as we feel further clarification is necessary. Owing to the fact that no significant redefinition of the President of the European Council’s position has been suggested, we will be referring to the current term of office and duties. As it was alluded to by the affirming team, the title of “President” can have many context-dependent meanings. Typically, European national presidents are responsible for some degree of the representing, presiding, facilitating, and coordinating functions of the national political process, however, unlike the President of the European Council, heads of state also appoint members to different branches of government, such as supreme court judges, as well as, exercise the power to veto. In this sense, a functional disparity arises between the two notions of “president”, which highlights the fact that the President of the European Council serves as a chairman, more so than a Head of state. This distinction is important because it allows us to understand and further examine the arguments in favor of the proposition, as well as, their implications. In the national context, one such implication is that of checks and balances. By exercising the power to appoint members of institutions and to veto laws, presidents counterbalance parliamentary reach into the executive and judicial branches of their respective countries. Additionally, the possibility for an election of a president from the opposition facilitates a balance of powers between national parties. Not only does the President of the European Council not possess these authorities, as of now, he may also hold another office within the institutions of the European Union, leading to a potential conflict of interests and stands in direct opposition to the democratic principle of “separation of powers”. The former systems, democratic and national, provide a clear and practical reason for citizens to participate in presidential elections, unlike the vague motion set forth.
    Hopefully having disambiguated the office in question, we will now proceed to address the affirming team’s argument concerning the need for a unified European front on the international stage personified in the President of the European Council. First and foremost, a position representing the will of the member countries of the European Union already exists, namely the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. And secondly, whoever the speaker or speakers would be, they would work on behalf of the European Council, which negates any direct political action taken by citizens towards electing such representatives.
    Next, let us examine the practicalities of these potential Pan-European elections. Since the hypothetical scenario, we are concerned with involves the conducting of elections throughout the continent, two things can be inferred - political campaigns would be very difficult to conduct and that staging the elections would have a comparative cost to the European parliamentary elections since the same access to polling booths must be provided. Leading international campaigns would not only prove difficult and expensive, due to the need for several campaign teams corresponding in several languages but would also likely raise questions concerning the political allegiance of the candidates and their donors.
    According to the BBC, during the 2014 European parliamentary elections, the United Kingdom alone spent £109m, primarily for polling. Since the parliamentary elections are held each five years and the elections for President of the European Council each two and a half years, the total spending for the same period of time would nearly triple. The desire for accountability stems from the desire to efficiently utilize the tax money collected from citizens. A simple cost-benefit analysis reveals that the risk of creating an expensive and potentially divisive system in order to appoint a representative with very limited institutional power far outweighs the potential unprecedented benefits.

    • Edit

      First of all, we want to agree with our colleagues that the nation of the EUCO-President is different compared to presidents of the nation states. However, this comparison is flawed as the EU is a political system sui generis and not a (nation) state. For this reason, we should also view the ECO-Resident as a “President sui generis”. Nonetheless our argument wasn’t primarily about the formal competencies of the EUCO-President compared to most European national President. There are, by the way, not only republics in Europe but also constitutional monarchies in which the kings and/or queens share similar functions as heads of state. We believe the EU only could follow a republican approach which requires a connection between the European public and the President who symbolize – or rather personalizes – the Union. Vice versa the possibility to elect the ECO-President would promote the notion of a real European public sphere.

      Moreover, we consider the role of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy as a kind of foreign minister who is part the Commission – a European government responsible the European Parliament. This function High Representative does not collude with the constitutional function of the EUCO-President to “ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” (Article 15 TEU). We are still convinced that a directly elected President would suite this function better than a President with a weak legitimation via the European leaders. In practice the EUCO-President would still work on behalf of the European Council, however he could fulfil his representation of the Union towards foreign leaders with a stronger symbolic authority if he is elected directly. Especially in diplomatic affairs one shouldn’t underestimate the power of political symbolism.

      Finally, we would like to respond to the point regarding the practicalities of a Pan-European election of the EUCO-President. We are not convinced that it would be a serious problem to conduct such an election as we already see a tendency to transnational leading candidates (“Spitzenkandidaten”) in the parliament election. Campaigns of different candidates for the President of European Council wouldn’t work any different. Certainly, the negative team is right that such an election would cost more money. But if it closes the democratic gap between the EU and its citizens and promotes the coherence of the EU on the global level, it is a price worth paying.

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    The European Union is still suffering from a lack of democracy. Due to their complexity the ordinary European citizens view the EU as inaccessible. Therefore, we consider it crucial that the President of the European Council should be directly elected by citizens of the EU for four reasons: First and most obvious, it would close the democratic gap between the EU institutions and the European citizens. Secondly, it would promote transparency and accountability within the European Council. Thirdly, a directly elected President of the European Council would be able the represent the EU on an equal footing with the other big world leaders. And finally, such a step would be a pragmatic reform which could be carried out without a complex and long-lasting revision of the European treaties.

    Against the background of our fist point, it is important to mention that a President of the European Council who is directly elected by the citizens does not mean a paradigm shift away – away from a parliamentary system to a presidential system. The European Parliament and the Commission constitute one pillar of representative parliamentary democracy whereas the President of the European Council assumes ceremonial and administrative functions within the intergovernmental pillar. Like the most western European democracies the President of the European Commission would be the head of government and the President of the European council the head of “state” – or rather the Union. A real European President as head of the Union however requires a stronger legitimation then a vote between the heads of the member states. Through the election of the President of the European Council citizens have another opportunity to participate in European politics. This strengthen the democratic link between the EU institutions and the people. On the other hand, the risk that extremist candidates may win such elections is relatively low.

    A President of the European Council who is elected by the citizens does however not automatically lead to a President with more competencies. The European Council is the traditional forum of the national leaders who are legitimated through elections in the member states. In addition to the supranational institutions the European Council (as well as the council) thus constitute the intergovernmental pillar of the EU. It is important that in such institutions the decision-making powers remain by the member states. If the President of the European Council is elected by the citizens, the national leaders would lose none of their decision-making powers within the Council. However, a President who is not accountable the European leaders, but the citizens of the EU could use his position to ensure that intergovernmental decision-making processes become more transparent for the public. As a result, citizens can hold “their” national leaders responsible for political decisions in the European Council.

    Our third argument relates to the role of the EU as a global stakeholder. In theory the foreign policy is a field in which the EU has a grat potential. In praxis however the EU tends to be to be its own worst enemy when all member states with different national interests need to agree upon a common position. The EU often doesn’t speak with one voice in international relations. This could change with a strongly legitimated President of the European Council representing all citizens of the EU. This “power” indeed has first and foremost a symbolic character, however, symbolic politics play a crucial role in diplomatic affairs. Such a President would be able to represent the EU on an equal footing with the US president or the president of Russia.

    Our final point is about the implementation of such an institutional reform. On the basis of the current European law the direct election of the European Council’s President would only require only a few minor changes in the treaties. In technical terms such an electoral reform may be a realistic perspective for the near future of the EU. By taking this simple step towards an elected EUCO-President we can make the EU more democratic and strengthen the EU’s role as a global actor – not by 2050, bot by 2030, but within only a few years.