In Brussels, preparations for next year’s European elections are well underway. Some are expecting the moon and the stars and are already overwhelmed by euphoria. The most enthusiastic among them predict that the May 2014 vote will be a major milestone for democracy. All of the political groups in the European Parliament have been invited to nominate a candidate to be the next Commission President, and speculation as to who will be chosen is already in full swing.

Will Martin Schulz be the socialist candidate? Is it a provocation to present a list led by a German? Can the members of the PPE – the conservative and Christian democratic group – really choose Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and will he have to give up the leadership of Poland’s national government if they do?

Other questions are being asked: won’t people in today’s Europe be put off by the orthodox federalism espoused by liberal Guy Verhofstadt? Why are there so few women among the likely candidates? And José Manuel Barroso cannot really be planning to sign up for another five years, can he?

We are still hoping that the politicisation of the procedure for the appointment of the next Commission president will amount to a step forward for democracy.

The idea is not new. One of the most eminent specialists on the EU, British academic Simon Hix, the author of What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix it (2008) – which has been reprinted several times – has long campaigned for just such a change.

Increasing politicisation

Taking the view that the current culture of consensus has dissuaded EU citizens from demanding more accountability, Hix advocates greater politicisation of EU decisions, and predicts that democracy will be reinforced by open competition between a greater number of candidates for the presidency of the European Commission.

Until now, the president of the European Commission was appointed by heads of state at tense meetings that concluded with shaky agreements on compromise candidates. Breaking with the tradition of secret deliberations behind closed doors will amount to a refreshing change.

However, the European democratic experiment that is now underway poses a multitude of questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered. For example, will Martin Schulz lead the social democratic list in Sweden? No, because member states take on the role of voting constituencies in European elections, and that is why the candidates in Sweden will always be Swedes. But although Swedish citizens will not have the option of voting for Martin Schulz, that does not mean that he will not feature on the posters that are stuck up across the country if he becomes the European socialist candidate. This is, to say the least, confusing.

And how do we know what policies will be implemented? Martin Schulz is far more federalist in outlook than many Swedish social democrats, but how will voters know which political line they are supporting? All of this is far from clear.

Baffling electoral procedure

On a purely formal level, the electoral process is not crystal clear either. Under the terms of article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, the appointment of the president of the Commission will take into “account the elections to the European Parliament," but the candidate will be proposed by the European Council of national heads of state. All too complicated.

It is a safe bet that the 2014 election will be a disappointment. Political leaders will continue to have the last word. It is also worth wondering if the president of the Commission should be endowed with more democratic legitimacy, as though he or she was the leader of a national government?

The Commission is a supranational institution with extensive powers and numerous prerogatives. It alone has legislative initiative in the EU, and also benefits from the right of decision over certain European laws. As the body with a brief to supervise the implementation of EU legislation, it also has the power to initiate legal proceedings against countries that fail to abide the rules.

This method of designating the Commission president therefore runs the risk of having an impact that is contrary to its intended effect by increasing the concentration of powers and encouraging legitimate expectations of political action. Whereas in fact, the goal should be to limit and not to increase the influence of the Commission.

European democracy should be better anchored on a national level by reinforcing the role of the European Parliament. Yes, there should be more candidates in the race to succeed José Manuel Barroso and more public debate. But let’s not act as though the Commission was the government of the Union.