Tuesday 18 August 2009

Reforming the EU - Impossible

The European Citizen has written an article on the need and possibility to reform the European Commission.

Without going too much into details, I would simply advocate a Commission that is completely detached from national considerations, because the tasks the Commissioners fulfil do not justify balance between member states but competence in their respective fields, as well as an ability to think in European dimensions and to lead a rather significant administration in a quite complex environment.

However, seeing the last eight years, I doubt that the EU is capable of substantive reform.

Its grown complexity with a perceived close-to-infinite number of veto points has become a heavy burden for this European tanker trying to navigate on the global sea.

Sure, we might see the Lisbon Treaty ratified soon, but this is not a revolutionary text, despite some obvious institutional and procedural changes. Under Lisbon, some dynamics will be changed, some equilibria will shift from one institution to another - largely depending on the practical interpretation and implementation of the Treaty's provisions.

Still, the true reform potential that would make the Union an effective and efficient democratic polity involving multi-level politics with a sensible mixture of representative democracy, administrative co-ordination, and involvement of citizens and socio-political interests concerned, is missing.

To make a long story short: Post-Lisbon, the EU won't see any substantial reform for a long time, no matter how urgent it would be. There are too many veto points built in the system, and these veto points mix the evils of individual high-handedness with the conservative force of big masses based upon non-rational logics that will always work against a reform that is felt and seen on the surface.

Only an external (or strong internal) shock might induce such a reform process, but in the end, its impact will hardly be sustainable long enough to put pressure on the Union for a sufficiently long time-period that would be needed to get a reform not only formulated but also ratified within 27 (or some more) member states.

Reforming the EU is impossible - and, yes, I know that prophecies can be self-fulfilling.


Anonymous said...

"Post-Lisbon, the EU won't see any substantial reform for a long time, no matter how urgent it would be"

Although I am in favor of the Lisbon treaty, I wonder if its rejection in the Irish republic encourage or even force the EU to make more substantial reform?

My knowledge in this area is limited so forgive any naïveté.

Julien Frisch said...

In fact, this a good and legitimate question, and I can only speculate.

But having seen the Constitutional Treaty rejected by the French and Dutch for very diverse reasons, the repeated rejections by the Irish will make it even more difficult to reform the EU.

Having Lisbon rejected - officially ending the reform process initiated by Laeken Declaration after the Nice Treaty disaster - would only manifest the doubts that a substantive reform can be ratified by all EU member states. It would discourage those lobbying for reforms - because they would definitely know that any substantive change will find at least one state or population rejecting these changes) and strengthen those in favour of the status quo as well as those opposing the EU as a political structure (because they would have continued proof of undemocratic and bureaucratic procedures).

So Lisbon would be a little light of hope, and the institutional changes it introduces will also bring about new dynamics with not yet foreseeable effects, which might change the perception of certain aspects of the EU (for the better or the worse), inducing a collective demand for (further) reform.

Yet, as I said, this is nothing but speculation based upon observation of the past years.

Lighthouse said...

Better still - An EU without a Commission

see http://ceolas.net/#eu2x

In considering the advantage of a structure like the European Commission,
it would be to have it in an advisory rather than legislative capacity, but advisory functions are of course possible in simpler ways.
The axis European Parliament-Council of Ministers is both more democratic and efficient in European legislation.

How did it come to this?
The Commission is an enduring hangover from the days of a small, limited, European Coal and Steel Community, a common market for coal and steel set up between 6 countries, when the Commission was called the High Authority.
That was then, this is now.
Now we have 27 member nations in wide-ranging political and economic cooperation.
Now we have 27 unelected Commissioners, supposedly wise and independent, with sole rights to initiate and execute legislation that affects 500 million citizens.
Now we have 736 elected Members of Parliament with no real relationship to the Commission (Government) and who basically just look on and give advice to the Commission and to national politicians, whatever about some approval functions it is allowed to share with the national politicians, who meet as the Council of Ministers.

The organization and rule of the EU is in fact more akin to the old Soviet Union:
The Commission, with the President as "Secretary", the 5 Year Budget Plans, the Committees under the Commission with their decrees as to what European citizens can or cannot do. Only the legislation approval route is different in the EU:
Legislation initiation and execution are as democratically removed from European citizens, as it was from citizens in the Soviet Union.

The EU today is a bloated expensive mess: ever expanding, poorly structured.
The problem of course is that expansion makes reform ever more difficult, which is why those who do not want reform actively seek expansion, but the structure remains poor also from their perspective.

A new, more focused, limited and democratic EU should therefore be developed.
The parliament would be smaller and have a better organized and more normal parliamentarian role, which a smaller, more cross-border oriented role of the EU itself in turn helps achieve.
The roots of people democracy balanced by state democracy (as in the USA with the House of Representatives and Senate) is already there, with, respectively, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
Whether European government is based on the American or French style executively empowered presidency, or on the more traditional European style of government based on parliaments and prime ministers, matters less: either form would be - in democracy, efficiency, and potential transparency - better than the commission system of today.

Inefficiently and expensively run as a regulatory bureaucracy, this EU is its own worst enemy, regardless of what member states want out of it.

citizen of Europe said...

I can only say (write) that to expect that ALL 27 (or how many) states of the European Union will agree with some essential constitutional change is ... something like silly. In my opinion, the two-speed Europe is its necessary future.