An elected Commission president is what José Manuel Barroso, the current post holder, called for in his State of the Union speech in plenary on 12 September. This is something that MEPs have long argued for and in a recent Eurobarometer survey published by Parliament, 54% of those asked said they would be more interested in voting in the European elections if political groups presented candidates for the position of Commission president. How in tune with citizens is the current president?
Mr Barroso said there should already be candidates for the post of Commission president at the 2014 elections. It is no coincidence that in the Eurobarometer survey more than half of all those questioned said it was something that would make them more likely to go out and vote, as it would give them that crucial feeling of direct involvement in a major decision.
As Christian-Democrat group leader Joseph Daul put it: "Our main task is to go out, explain and convince, even if though it will not be easy." Liberal Democrat group leader Guy Verhofstadt, underlined that the ultimate aim can only be "a union based on citizens".
Implicitly acknowledging the feeling expressed by a majority of respondents to the survey that their voice "does not count in Europe", president Barroso insisted that "Europe has to be ever more democratic", with the European elections and Parliament being the "decisive" and "essential" element of this. The element that Europeans themselves, in the survey, recognise as "the best way" to have their voice "heard by decision makers".
But beyond pure politics, in these times of crisis the fight against unemployment remains the key priority for most Europeans and it is no surprise that the Commission president sounded the alarm of the "real social emergency" engulfing parts of Europe but also underlined the need for an EU budget capable of bringing the growth that "creates jobs and supports our standard of living", a position Parliament has long maintained.
After all, he asked: "Is it realistic to see more than 50% of our young people jobless in some member states"? To this, Social-Democrat group leader Hannes Swoboda answered by calling for a social pact: "There is an alternative to cuts that must be based on investments". Gabriele Zimmer, leader of the United Left group, agreed: "What people want is solidarity today."
The economy and the euro are, after all, the defining elements of the European identity for most respondents in the survey and president Barroso didn't miss the point by underlining that: "We do not have to apologise for our social market economy. We must complete the economic and monetary union." He also added: "We must reform together" and develop a "European social dimension".
Indeed, combating social exclusion and coordinating economic, budget and tax policies across Europe are the two overriding policy priorities identified by most Europeans in the survey.