Let me ask you a question…
Do you know this woman?
Her name is URSULA VON DER LEYEN.
I must confess, I had never heard of her…
till a month ago.
And just like me, neither had most Europeans.
So this woman is about to become the next
EU Commission President.
She will be the equivalent of Donald Trump
in the European Union: the most powerful person
And this is already official: on November
1st, she will take the oath.
And OK, OK, I know what you’re thinking…
especially those of you who voted in the European
Who is this woman?
I mean… where does she come from?
Well, I think Erik can give us more information.
Of course, Simon.
As you know, on May 2019 Europeans went to
the polling stations to choose the members
of the European Parliament.
These are legislative elections similar to
the Midterms in America or the parliamentary
elections in the UK.
So, the name of Ursula Von der Leyen wasn’t
on any ballot.
Back then, she was just the Defense Minister
Germans knew her but other Europeans… not
And I know what you’re thinking… this
process is completely legal.
In EU elections, Europeans don’t get to
choose the executive power—just the legislative
So, technically, anybody could become president
of the commission as long as the Parliament
accepts him or her.
In other words, this is totally possible law-wise…
but politics-wise, it is kind of weird.
Just to give an example: many people in the
UK complained about Boris Johnson becoming
the Prime Minister.
But, to be fair, Johnson is well known and
he was a member of the parliament.
The situation with Von der Leyen would be
like choosing the mayor of Liverpool as Prime
Minister just because.
And yes, it is true, Von der Leyen’s appointment
is a historical event: she will be the first
woman to rule Europe.
Her name will appear next to other pioneers
like Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher.
And maybe she’ll become a big historical
figure like them.
She might become a great president.
But today’s question is…
Can we say the European Union is a real democracy
if Von Der Leyen was chosen without being
What’s the EU Commission’s president’s
Today we are going to answer those questions,
but before we do, let’s take a look back
at the history.
THE BRUSSELS BUBBLE
In the year 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was
We could say this was the moment when the
European Union, with its capital in Brussels,
Until that moment, the European Single Market
was only what the name suggested: a market.
A very big free trade agreement that included
almost all of Western and Southern Europe.
But it had almost no political power.
The European Union was a giant step because
it meant that now all those countries would
be bonded by a common government.
Years later, creations like the EURO currency,
the Schengen Area, and many other treaties
And you might wonder… could we say that
the EU is similar to the United States?
Does it work as a federation, as a confederation?
Well… it is hard to say.
In fact, European institutions are really
hard to understand.
And usually the media doesn’t really help
You often hear news saying ‘Brussels said
this’ or ‘Brussels demands that thing’
but, in fact, there are 3 institutions based
in Brussels and all three are different from
one another, with different roles.
But don’t worry.
You can understand it all very easily with
an example you all know: Article 13.
In case you don’t know, Article 13 is the
common name for that EU directive on copyright
that affects YouTubers so much.
I’m sure you heard a lot about it.
But this time, let’s not focus on what it
says, but instead on how it got passed.
It all starts with the EUROPEAN COUNCIL.
This is the place where the prime ministers
of all the EU member countries meet and say
‘OK, guys, we need a legislation to regulate
They write some general guidelines and send
it to the next guy: the EUROPEAN COMMISSION.
The commission would be the equivalent of
the White House or Downing Street: this is
the executive power in Europe.
They have a president, a vice president, and
some commissioners that are similar to a minister
or a secretary of state.
So those guys read the guidelines written
by the COUNCIL and write a legislative proposal,
which would be the first draft for legislation.
Once they’re finished, they send it to the
legislative body, which is the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT.
This parliament works in a very similar fashion
to the US capitol or the house of commons
in the UK… but it has something unique.
Its members cannot come up with their own
They can only discuss the proposals sent by
For example, in the US, Ocassio Cortez is
only a congresswoman, but she can come up
with her Green New Deal and try to make it
pass through Congress.
A European MP couldn’t.
This means that the EU Parliament is much
weaker than a normal one.
So coming back to the Article 13… after
the European Parliament discusses it, they
come up with their own version of the law.
But there are still many details to polish.
If you remember the video we made about article
13, a small detail in a piece of legislation
can change an entire industry.
So this is where we get to the trialogues.
Trialogue is a process where representatives
from those three institutions—the council,
the commission, and the parliament—meet
again to discuss the law.
And finally, we have the final, polished and
The final stage is when the trialogue sends
this law back to the parliament.
In this case, the MEPs can vote yes or no,
but they cannot add anymore amendments.
So, as we said before, in this system, the
Commission has a lot of power because they
are the only ones who can send a legislative
draft to the parliament.
This is why this is such a very important
WHO gets to choose the president of the Commission?
And here is where the BIG debate starts.
The president is chosen by the EU Council
and ratified by the Parliament.
That is, the prime ministers of all the EU
countries get to decide who the president
will be and then the parliament votes in favor
This leaves the parliament in a very weak
position because they can only say yes or
no, but, again, they cannot propose anybody.
And this is why, 5 years ago, some politicians
proposed the SPITZENKANDIDATEN system.
In this system, each political party running
for the elections must have one candidate
So if you vote for, say, the social democrats,
you know that they’ll fight for this specific
candidate to be the EU president.
Sounds fair, right?
Well… there is a problem.
Many political parties don’t agree with
Think about it… right now, the council can
choose anybody to be president.
With this proposed system, they could only
choose from a very short list of SPITZENKANDIDATEN
proposed by the parties.
So for years, the SPITZENKANDIDATEN system
became sort of a gentlemen’s deal.
Parties kind of followed this system, but
it wasn’t written down anywhere.
This is how the former EU President, JEAN
CLAUDE JUNCKER, was elected in 2014.
His made a coalition government between social
democrats and the People’s party.
And now you might wonder…
What happened during the 2019 elections?
Well… what usually happens with gentlemen’s
deals… some gentlemen just break them.
In this case, the Social democrats and the
People’s party didn’t have enough seats
to make a government.
They needed the support of the liberals…
and liberals don’t want the spitzenkandidaten
But… why don’t they want it?
And why did they end up choosing the German
Let’s have a look, shall we?
In Brussels, they call it the EU Top5 jobs—the
5 most powerful political positions.
Those positions are: the president of the
Commission, the Vice president who deals with
foreign affairs, the president of the Parliament,
the president of the Council and the president
of the European Central Bank.
These 5 guys are the ultimate decision makers
So the question is… who gets to choose them?
The answer is the Council.
Again, the council is made up of the prime
ministers of all the member countries.
Then they need the approval of the Parliament.
With the spitzenkandidaten system, they would
have a bigger say in this because, at least,
the parties can say who the eligible candidates
So who is in favour of this?
Of course, the biggest political parties.
Who is against it?
Well… think about it.
Macron’s party rejects Spitzenkandidat process
Macron, the French president, belongs to the
liberal party, which is the third Group.
In other words, not a big deal.
But, as the President of the second biggest
country in Europe, he has a strong position
on the council.
Basically, having the second largest economy
in the Union gives you a lot of leverage to
negotiate with the other countries.
This is why usually we talk about the French-German
Those two economies usually lead all the negotiations.
So, basically, Macron has a big incentive
to keep the power of the council as it is
And Germany, being the largest country both
in population and in economics, is happy too.
So, at the end of the day, Macron and Merkel
sat together and said…
‘No spitzenkandidaten… we choose a German
Commission president and a French president
for the European Central Bank’.
And since Germany and France have the most
leverage on the council, the rest of the countries
this is when Ursula Von der Leyen came into
Basically, she’s the perfect poster child
for the European Union: she’s German but
she was born and raised in Belgium, Speaks
5 languages and has friends everywhere.
Basically, she’s the kind of charismatic
person who everyone wants to be around at
a cocktail party.
So as soon as they introduced her to the members
of the council, the council accepted her.
And I know what you’re gonna say…
Come on, Simon!
That can’t be it!
You see, when we make political analyses,
we often try to use economic data, surveys,
and complex strategies to understand a politician’s
We often forget that politics are carried
out by humans like you and me.
So, sometimes, something as stupid as telling
the right joke to the right person at the
right cocktail party can drive big political
In Europe, this kind of political maneuvering
has a name: the Brussels Bubble.
And who did they choose for the President
of the European Central Bank?
Well… in this case, a French woman, Cristine
Lagarde, the former IMF president.
This is a great deal for Macron.
Basically, he’s killing two birds with one
He puts a French person in power, and he makes
sure Lagarde won’t run against him.
Christine Lagarde, la présidente rêvée
The rest of the top Jobs went to Spain, Italy,
and the liberals.
But… let’s be honest here, the biggest
winners were Germany and France.
David Passoli, an Italian social democrat,
will become the next EU Parliament president.
Josep Borrell will become the vice president,
and the Belgium liberal, Charles Michel, will
lead the Council.
So, OK, now the big question is… what is
the next step?
How does Ursula Von der Layene get to choose
Let’s have a look.
VON DER LEYEN’S TEAM
According to many surveys, the main reason
why Britons voted in favor of BREXIT was not
regulations or immigration but a lack of citizen
control over EU affairs.
And… after everything we’ve said, we must
admit there is a little bit of truth to that.
And you could say…
The parliament still could have rejected Von
der Leyen as the president!
Well… look at how people can change their
opinion on the Brussels Bubble.
THIS is what the People’s party Spitzenkandidaten,
MANFRED WEBER, said one day…
Weber urges EU lawmakers to push back against
decisions made in ‘diplomats back rooms’
And look at what he said just one month later…
Germany’s Weber urges EU lawmakers to back
von der Leyen in top job vote
So it doesn’t seem to be a debate.
At least, not a transparent one that we can
see in the parliament.
It seems that most of the decisions are make
in a private room in that Brussels bubble.
So now you might wonder… what happens next?
What can we expect from Von der Leyen once
she gets into office?
The first thing she’ll have to do is to
name the commissioners.
As we said before, the commissioners are the
equivalent of a minister or a secretary of
state in the European Union.
There must be 28: one for each member country.
This means that, for example, you couldn’t
have two German or two Italian commissioners.
But, of course, it’s not the same being
the commissioner in charge of finance, a very
important spot, as the one in charge of humanitarian
It will be Von der Leyen’s job to decide
who does what.
So far, all we know is that the new Government
of Europe will have parity between genders:
there will be as many female commissioners
as male commissioners.
And this is where the EU Parliament has the
Because, right after Von der Leyen names her
commissioners, they will have to pass a test
on the Parliament.
And yes, those tests are not simple.
It’s common for some commissioners to not
For example, in 2014, the Slovenian candidate
failed at the Parliament’s hearings and
they had to choose another person from the
So, yes, Von Der Leyen will not have it that
In this regard, it’s a very effective check
But now the questions go to you…
Do you think Macron did the right thing by
avoiding the spitzenkandidaten system?
Are the euroskeptics right to complain about
the lack of democracy in Europe?
Please, leave your answers in the comment
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