A jour­ney through the EU in­sti­tu­tions

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ev­ery year be­fore the start of the sum­mer break, I treat my­self to a jour­ney through the EU In­sti­tu­tions. I say ‘treat’ be­cause it is a real plea­sure for me to speak freely and in full con­fi­dence with elected politi­cians, se­nior civil ser­vants, head lob­by­ists and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from lead­ing NGOs. This ini­tia­tory jour­ney pro­vides an im­pres­sive panorama of the cur­rent state of the Euro­pean Union.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: The more I meet high-level fig­ures, the more I am struck by their un­der­stand­ing of the ob­sta­cles to good gov­er­nance. But I am also sur­prised by their in­abil­ity to pro­pose even the small­est re­form that could rem­edy this.

Most likely this is due to the hi­er­ar­chi­cal dom­i­nance of the Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dency which, for var­i­ous rea­sons ev­ery­one knows, is in the hands of its Head of Cab­i­net who has re­placed au­thor­ity with au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. The re­sult is a kind of bot­tle­neck, cre­at­ing a real bar­rier be­tween the po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive lev­els of the Com­mis­sion.

Mr Juncker’s goal of com­bat­ting the ‘silo’ ap­proach which gives Direc­torates-Gen­eral ex­ces­sive au­ton­omy, must be con­sid­ered a fail­ure. More than ever, ev­ery leg­isla­tive file has its own in­sti­tu­tional set­ting; the per­sonal fac­tor and the mar­gins of in­ter­pre­ta­tion have never been so im­por­tant.

Euro­pean Par­lia­ment: The du­al­ity in the Com­mis­sion is also present in the Par­lia­ment, which con­trib­utes to an im­pov­er­ish­ment of de­bate via a grand coali­tion be­tween the EPP and S&D work­ing hand in hand with the Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent, him­self a prod­uct of the Par­lia­ment due to the Spitzenkan­di­daten sys­tem.

This peace­ful in-group cul­ture in­hibits de­bate at the high­est level of the In­sti­tu­tion and also at the low­est, via the sys­tem­atic use of tri­logues favour­ing first-read­ing agree­ments. It is un­be­liev­able to see that 100% of leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als were adopted at first or ‘early sec­ond’ read­ing in 2016! This sys­tem, the epit­ome of anti-democ­racy, has the per­verse con­se­quence of mul­ti­ply­ing the num­ber of del­e­gated and im­ple­ment­ing acts, mul­ti­ply­ing ex­cep­tions and dero­ga­tions.

As a se­nior fig­ure in DG SANTE told me: “There are hardly three peo­ple in Brus­sels ca­pa­ble of clearly ex­plain­ing the pro­ce­dure for adopt­ing the two reg­u­la­tions on en­docrine dis­rup­tors.” Prob­a­bly there are more than three, but cer­tainly not more than ten!

Coun­cil of Min­is­ters: The Coun­cil also finds it­self con­fronted with op­pos­ing forces. The first from above, in the shape of the Euro­pean Coun­cil where the Heads of State and Gov­ern­ment meet around ten times per year (un­for­tu­nately in a high de­gree of opac­ity) and dic­tate the agenda to the spe­cialised Coun­cils. The lat­ter are re­duced to fol­low­ing the views of the Masters of the Union and at­tempt­ing to re­sist Com­mis­sion con­trol over del­e­gated and im­ple­ment­ing acts.

In­tended to sim­plify the EU de­ci­sion-mak­ing process, the Treaty of Lis­bon has, af­ter eight years, suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing an in­sti­tu­tional mon­ster that si­mul­ta­ne­ously gives more power to each In­sti­tu­tion while re­duc­ing its in­flu­ence in prac­tice. The in­sti­tu­tional tri­an­gle has be­come a square, with a dom­i­nant Euro­pean Coun­cil, a bu­reau­cratic Com­mis­sion and a Par­lia­ment that fol­lows rather than leads. This is not what we ex­pect of the EU in the midst of a world­wide geopo­lit­i­cal mael­strom.

This in­sti­tu­tional storm is es­sen­tially a storm in a teacup, be­cause noth­ing re­ally gets done on a daily ba­sis. There is a lot of wait-and-see, op­por­tunism and res­ig­na­tion. For how long will this go on? Lob­by­ists known to be ex­perts in their fields are now faced with the need to be­come le­gal ex­perts and pro­ce­dural an­a­lysts, tasks they are of­ten ill-pre­pared for. Some NGO rep­re­sen­ta­tives have the abil­ity to be pro-ac­tive; farm­ers and in­dus­try are too of­ten on the de­fen­sive. In this sys­tem cre­ated by the un­for­tu­nate Lis­bon Treaty, de­tail trumps the es­sen­tial, de­bate is care­fully avoided and soft con­sen­sus reigns supreme. None of this is what we need.

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