October 29, 2015
Let’s be frank: after one year, the Juncker Commission has been a disappointment.
Admittedly, it has excuses: too many Member States, an unmanageable decision-making process, intractable geopolitical and humanitarian crises…but be that as it may, the “last-chance Commission” risks living up to its name, if can’t find a path to better governance soon.
The Treaty of Lisbon: a wrecking ball
Initially celebrated as a simplifying treaty, every day shows the Lisbon Treaty to be part of the problem and not the solution. As Professor Olivier Costa of the College of Europe has highlighted, the institutional triangle is turning into a square, with the fourth corner occupied by the European Council as a kind of a tutor for the Commission – completely contradicting the spirit and letter of the Treaty.
Some go even further, describing the EU as a sort of Eiffel Tower with the European Council at the top (taking decisions), the Commission halfway up (managing) and at the bottom, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, two pillars responsible for supervision. This system is leading to paralysis, planting the seeds of the EU’s dilution – if not its destruction.
Poor choices of leaders
Once more, the Lisbon Treaty is to blame: by putting the Presidents of the Commission and European Council alongside each other, it is leading to either a power struggle like in the Barroso era, or a sidelining of the two Presidents as is the case today. The consequence is a poor image, a total absence of visibility and zero communication with the EU citizen. It is equally incredible to see the Commission President convening a ‘Leaders’ summit’ on 25 October, chaired by him in the form of a mini-European Council. This is a complete blurring of powers.
The presence of a High Representative who is both Commission Vice-President and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council is another source of incoherence and ineffectiveness, cruelly exposed by the primacy of national political leaders in key diplomatic issues.
Yet again, President Juncker seems to be psychologically and intellectually torn between, on one hand, his past function as prime minister and his present function as Commission President. Just like Santer, Prodi and Barroso before him, none of the Presidents since Delors have really succeeded in fitting into the role. It is a difficult post that requires a range of contradictory qualities.
Today, the problem is made worse by the presence of five former prime ministers as Commission Vice-Presidents. This is accompanied by a drift of power from the leaders down to their deputies and colleagues; in other words, from the political to the bureaucratic.
Restoring order in EU governance
On 21 October, Catherine Trautmann, one of the former voices of the European Parliament, gave a press conference devoted to the EP seat. Her initiative was perfectly-timed, coming just a few days after the public announcement that the EP buildings in Brussels will require large-scale renovations, barely 20 years after their construction. Yet another demonstration of how the EU fails to be the master of its own affairs, and even its destiny.
But far from focussing on history, geopolitics or economics, Ms Trautmann based her arguments on the poor governance of the EU: as she put it, bureaucracy in Brussels and democracy in Strasbourg. She believed that bringing the whole Parliament to Brussels would create a sort of “legislative tube” where Directives and Regulations are drafted, negotiated and implemented in an opaque manner without political debate. In short, a caricature of democracy.
Announcing her upcoming initiatives, Ms Trautmann will organise a seminar on the reform of EU governance. There have already been a lot of these, but this one will be more promising and likely more operational in its objectives, programme and contributors. The EU needs the wind of reform blowing across it. We urgently need thinkers, decision-makers and leaders.Daniel Gueguen