Daniel Gueguen

Last week the US magazine Newsweek had Emmanuel Macron on its cover as the “Last Man Standing”. Why not? But in an EU looking for direction, the boundary between leaders and followers seems to be reversed.

Curiously, the leaders fall into distinct groups, while the followers are individuals. It seems the EU is being driven by currents of opinion that the political class are subject to and cannot control.

Eurosceptics: the winners in next year’s European elections

Today, ‘Eurosceptics’ make up about 170 (i.e. 22%) of the MEPs in the European Parliament. Some estimate that the next ‘anti-establishment’ cohort will rise to 250, or one-third of the Strasbourg assembly. The only silver lining is that such a setback for the ‘establishment’ parties might bring an end to the regrettable ‘Spitzencandidaten’ system.

In the camp of the leaders too, there are ‘activists’ who come from the most radical NGOs: anti-glyphosate, anti-GMO, anti-meat, anti-science. Thanks to their convictions, their mastery of social networks and their barely-concealed aggression, they are the ones dictating the EU agenda. They lead politicians towards lax compromises, half-measures and soft positions.

There is a third category: bureaucrats. They are everywhere. At both European and national level, power is slipping from the political to the bureaucratic. The technocrats’ regulatory stranglehold is strengthened by an incomprehensible decision-making process.

The main followers: Commission President and College

The goal of the Lisbon Treaty was to maximise the power of the Institutions: via the European Council, Heads of State or Government would be involved in setting the EU policy direction. Parliament’s role was to be expanded and the Commission was to gain more power over delegated and implementing acts.

In practice, it was the opposite. With 9 years of hindsight, we can see just how weak the Institutions have become: the European Council has taken the lead on all files, using the Commission as a mere secretariat. Although composed of strong personalities, the Commission offers no resistance. Nobody questions President Juncker, who was probably selected to be weak. Lazy in its legislative activity, the Parliament uses the anti-democratic system of trilogues for all its files now.

Having the monopoly of legislative initiative and supposed to be the ‘engine of the EU’, the Commission takes refuge in a comfortable herd mentality, following the vague guidelines laid down by the European Council.

The last-chance Commission 2019-2024

President Macron’s speeches at the Sorbonne and during the presentation of the Charlemagne Prize sparked enthusiasm: finally, a real pro-European. But results are not meeting expectations. Too scattered, not enough delegation, and an out-dated vision of the European Union. While one respects his action, unfortunately he limited his analysis to a geopolitical vision of the EU. Even if too French in expression, he could have added a more operational angle to this interesting approach.

The EU executive is no longer working: too heavy, bureaucratised and unaccountable. Without Treaty change, lots can be done to simplify, lighten the structures and boost accountability. Ignore the excuse that the Commission is near the end of its mandate – it still has 13 months of activity left! This need to improve performance applies equally to the Council and the European Parliament.

In 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker described his team as “the last-chance Commission.” They already said that at the time of President Thorn (1981-85). Thanks to support from Mitterrand-Kohl, the Single European Act of 1987 and the single market, the Delors Commissions (1985-95) found solutions. So let’s not be overly pessimistic. But it’s clear that the next one (2019-2024) really will be the last-chance Commission.

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