A petition, an open letter, a blog article – these are all modest contributions. What else can I do? I am just a practitioner. But there is nothing degrading about being a practitioner in European affairs. Because a practitioner is perfectly able to analyse what is good and what is bad in the functioning of the European Union.
Mr Macron, your project is deliberately European and you are working with a coalition of leaders capable of rebuilding the Union. In the ‘European Quarter’ where we work every day, we see in our entourages and our clientele a pro-European feeling that is unflinching but nevertheless accompanied by major dissatisfaction with the way the European Union is being governed. When discourages, many fall into Euroscepticism; we consider ourselves ‘critical Europhiles’.
Common reasons for dissatisfaction
First of all, the Selmayr affair raises many questions. How can such opacity be possible? A Secretary General resigning quietly, overnight, without any warning. A head of cabinet disregarding all the rules to become Secretary General. A Jean-Claude Juncker tying his fate to that of his subordinate! A Commission President imposing a Secretary General upon his successor! How can we tolerate such a mess, such an attack on the dignity of the Union?
Mr President, there are some things you can think but cannot say. The dilution of the Commission President’s authority is one of them. Delors, Santer, Prodi, Barroso I and II, Juncker… the decline is staggering! But even if you cannot say it, you can take action. We are not lacking for good candidates. Their profile is quite easy to define: the exact opposite of the current holder of the post. Female, young, not a former Prime Minister, no axe to grind, dynamic, committed, full-time and focussed on the essential: making the EU machine work.
Be a leader, but take care of the details
Your conference at the Sorbonne gave an image of you as a thinker of the European Union and of Europe around the world. But in Strasbourg, while recalling that the single currency necessitates a deepening of European integration, you could also do well to underline that we first have to make sure the Institutions are working correctly. The Treaty of Lisbon was supposed to simplify, but in reality it has made everything more complex, creating obscure procedures, exceptions, derogations and special cases. The election of the Commission President via the Spitzenkandidat system, the systematic use of trilogues, the new comitology, delegated acts – all of this needs to be re-thought, simplified and made transparent.
As the authority of the Commission President is diluted, the ‘Community method’ disappears. The College of Commissioners is no longer a College. The inter-service consultation procedure, once so important, has become virtual, with every Directorate-General prizing its own autonomy. The primacy of the European Council weakens the Council of Ministers. And the Commission, lacking authority at the top, submits to instructions from others. The Parliament is not blameless either, limiting itself to ratifying trilogue compromises without any debate.
And then there is Strasbourg…
It has always been said that the functioning of the Institutions is low-cost. This is becoming less and less true. The Commission has burdened itself with agencies and the European Parliament enjoys a massive budget of close to €2 billion a year. Strasbourg is accused of waste, without anyone determining the amount that is wasted. Moving all the Institutions to Brussels is not the solution. On the contrary: it would make the ineffective governance of the EU even more visible and palpable. Brussels should manage its bureaucracy with more openness and simplicity. Strasbourg should enhance the vision of Europe and take care of everything concerning legislation and the EU of the future. Improving EU governance also requires throwing a lifejacket to the British currently drowning in the sea of Brexit.