Πέμπτη, 12 Φεβρουαρίου 2015

Juncker's three steps to improve the Commission's standing in the EU

When Jean-Claude Juncker became European Commission president he pledged to do his 

best to restore citizens’ trust in the European project. Juncker thinks that improving the 

Commission’s standing in the EU is pivotal to delivering on this promise. In his first hundred 

days in office he has taken three important steps to strengthen the Commission’s hand but he 

still has to prove that he can avoid repeating the mistakes of his predecessor, José Manuel 


Juncker’s three steps to improve the Commission’s standing in the EU

Juncker did not have an easy start in Brussels. He took over the Commission’s reins when 

public trust in the EU was plummeting and support for eurosceptic parties was on the rise. The 

Commission’s institutional power was also in decline. During the financial and euro crises, 

despite the Commission’s monopoly on proposing EU laws, the European Council became 

the primary forum for EU decision-making in the area of economic governance. The 

Commission was left to rubber-stamp the decisions of EU leaders and turn them into EU 


While failing to provide leadership in responding to the economic crisis, the Commission 

attempted to expand its responsibilities in other policy areas (often described by British 

officials as ‘competence creep’). This has irritated quite a few member-states. Poland, though 

strongly pro-European, has for example felt uneasy with the idea of the Commission using 

strict environmental rules to limit shale gas exploitation.

Juncker wants to transform the Commission’s unfavourable image through three steps: setting 

the EU agenda rather than letting others do it for him; doing a few key things well, rather than 

doing a lot of things badly; and reconnecting the Commission to the citizens of Europe.

Juncker’s first step was to reassert the Commission’s power to set the EU agenda. He knew it 

would be a tall order: he became Commission president through the new Spitzenkandidaten 

process, whereby the candidate nominated by the largest party group in the European 

Parliament becomes Commission president. This process helped the Parliament strengthen 

its political control over the Commission and its president. But Juncker, though perceived by 

many as a staunch supporter of European integration, wants the Commission to be more 

equidistant between the European Parliament and EU capitals. He hopes that First Vice-

President Frans Timmermans, who as Dutch foreign minister called for a better balance of 

power between member-states, the Commission and the European Parliament, will help him 

to achieve this objective.

Timmermans has so far tried to practise what he preaches. He presented the major objectives 

of the Commission’s action plan for 2015 both to MEPs and to the Council of Ministers before 

it was published, but he did not allow either side to fiddle with the content. In a letter to the 

president of the Parliament and to the Italian presidency, he also declared a willingness to co-

operate more systematically with both EU ministers and MEPs over subsequent Commission 

action plans. He suggested that all three institutions jointly identify strategic EU priorities for 

each new legislative cycle (so called multiannual programming). The Commission would 

provide more information on its intended actions but in return, Timmermans would like both the 

Council and the European Parliament to fast-track key Commission legislative initiatives. This 

approach is a welcome departure from the second Barroso Commission. In 2010 it concluded 

an agreement with the Parliament which significantly enhanced MEPs’ influence on the 

Commission’s daily business, including its work programme. This came at the expense of the 

role of member-states, which were not a party to it.

Getting both MEPs and ministers around the same table to discuss the Commission’s future 

plans will not be easy. Member-states would like to enter into tripartite co-operation but the 

European Parliament will not like sharing hard-won powers. Timmermans should try to 

convince MEPs that greater Council engagement also helps them: when EU governments 

considered legislative proposals in the Council, it would be hard for them to backtrack on 

commitments previously made to the Commission and MEPs.

Greater collaboration on the Commission’s multiannual work programme could also speed up 

the adoption of EU laws. Although the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have 

tried to shorten the process, it still takes them on average 19 months to reach consensus on a 

piece of EU legislation. They should prioritise speedier agreement on legislation which would 

help the EU economy recover.

Timmermans should, however, ensure that fast-tracking key proposals does not compromise 

the quality or transparency of EU law-making. Today, the Commission conducts impact 

assessments to evaluate how planned legislation will affect citizens, the economy and the 

environment before deciding whether to make a proposal. In negotiations on the initial draft, 

member-states and MEPs often introduce substantial changes. Under time pressure, the 

Council and Parliament may not always consider how changes may affect the regulatory 

burden on citizens and industry. Additional impact assessments of these amendments, an 

idea supported by Timmermans, could help to deliver Juncker’s promise to cut red tape in the 


Juncker’s second step was to challenge the Commission’s reputation for producing 

unnecessary laws. In December 2014 he presented a lean but concrete action plan for the year 

to come. To the relief of many European capitals, it consisted of only 23 proposals, including 

Juncker’s flagship projects like the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which aims to 

deliver up to €315 billion in public and private investment in Europe. By contrast, the Barroso 

Commission tabled around 130 proposals per annum in its last five years.

Juncker decided to copy the practice in member-states, whereby a newly elected government 

can drop the unfinished business of its predecessor. This was a first test of the effectiveness of 

the new college structure. Timmermans, who co-ordinated preparation of the work programme, 

urged other vice-presidents to ditch any of Barroso’s proposals which did not coincide with 

Juncker’s priorities. The new college reviewed around 450 pending proposals and set out a 

list of 80 to be scrapped, or withdrawn and then resubmitted in a modified form.

Juncker’s approach deserves some credit. The Commission is right to drop proposals which 

do not contribute to boosting growth, jobs and investment. The European Commission 

decided, for example, to withdraw a proposal on the tax treatment of motor vehicles belonging 

to EU migrants who change their residence permanently, tabled in 1998 and stuck ever since. 

The Commission should instead focus on more pressing dossiers like the digital single market 

package, designed to ease access to cross-border digital services.

But Timmermans included among the 80 proposals to be withdrawn some on which member-

states and MEPs have only recently started working. For example, he decided to ditch the so-

called ‘circular economy package’, which aims to encourage recycling and efficient use of 

resources. He promised to come up with new, “more ambitious” proposals. Timmermans may 

thereby have pleased business representatives, who complained that the package hindered 

competitiveness, but he has annoyed MEPs and environment ministers. They are worried that 

the Commission’s better regulation agenda boils down to deregulation, and that environment 

and climate protection aims will become victims of Timmermans’ crusade to cut red tape.

But member-states and the European Parliament also fear that Timmermans may have just set 

a dangerous precedent: if an incoming Commission asserted the right to drop any unfinished 

legislation inherited from its predecessor, regardless of what stage it had reached, it would 

effectively gain a right to veto legislative negotiations. Timmermans should table new 

proposals on recycling and resource efficiency as soon as possible. If he can reconcile the 

divergent interests of business and environmentalists, he will give more substance to his 

‘better regulation’ portfolio.

Juncker’s third and perhaps most important step was to challenge EU citizens’ preconceptions 

about the Commission. His other steps will mean little if the institution he runs does not restore 

its standing in the eyes of the public. EU citizens are more openly contesting the new powers 

given to the Commission by member-states, including the right to review the draft budgets of 

eurozone countries. Anti-establishment movements are gaining popularity by promising to 

block the ‘diktats of Brussels’. The recent electoral victory of the left-wing Syriza party in 

Greece could fuel similar movements across Europe.

Juncker hopes that making the Commission less technocratic and more political in the way it 

acts will help him improve the Commission’s image. He wants his commissioners to stand up 

to EU leaders, who under pressure from Eurosceptic voices at home, criticise EU decisions to 

which they had previously agreed. One of the first manifestations of this approach was 

Timmermans’ announcement of a new partnership with national parliaments. National 

parliamentarians have often complained that their concerns about unnecessary laws fall on 

deaf ears in Brussels. When in 2013, 14 parliamentary chambers raised a ‘yellow card’ to 

object to the proposed creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Barroso 

Commission did not discuss parliamentarians’ concerns about the proposal and pushed 

ahead with legislation. Timmermans has urged his fellow commissioners to engage more 

actively in debate with national MPs. This would mean listening to parliaments’ doubts about 

Commission proposals and taking on board constructive ideas on how to improve EU action. 

Commissioners should also visit the parliaments of eurozone countries to discuss the 

Commission’s opinions on draft national budgets. After all, it is up to parliamentarians whether 

they take the Commission’s suggestions on board when they adopt the budgets.

Juncker also hopes that more direct interaction between his college and the press will narrow 

the gap between Brussels and EU citizens. He has therefore put communication policy under 

his direct supervision and reduced the number of spokespersons, who will now have 

responsibility for briefing on the Commission’s policies rather than speaking on behalf of 

individual commissioners. In Barroso’s time, it looked as if spokespersons represented 

individual commissioners rather than the institution as a whole, and when commissioners 

disagreed, the result was confusion. Juncker wants his Commission to speak in public with 

one voice. He also believes that since the commissioners are “the best advocates of 

Commission policies”, they should talk more often to the media themselves.

Building a more ‘political’ Commission may at times be difficult to reconcile with the 

Commission’s responsibility to represent the general interest of the European Union. Given 

growing tensions between creditor and debtor countries on how the eurozone should be 

governed, the Juncker college should make every effort to strike the right balance between the 

interests of different member-states. The determination of Greece’s Syriza-led government to 

walk away from previous agreements, and the equal insistence of Germany and its northern 

allies that Greece should stick to its obligations, will make it hard for the Commission to find 

common ground. If Juncker can help to reconcile feuding EU members-states without leaning 

towards any of them, he will have taken an important step towards restoring the Commission’s 

credibility in the eyes of all EU citizens.

Written by Agata Gostyńska

Agata Gostyńska is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

sourche: http://www.cer.org.uk/insights/junckers-three-steps-improve-commissions-standing-eu?utm_source=All+website+signups+as+of+21+March+2014&utm_campaign=20e5877a7f-insight_GM_crops&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c3be79867d-20e5877a7f-301763949

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