A new trend in the institutional dynamic of the European Commission is evident: its independence, enshrined in the Treaties (art. 17, para 3 TEU; art. 245 TFEU) is waning. The EUobserver reports:
“A group of EU commissioners from smaller Member States is growing increasingly angry with a number of their larger-state colleagues, perceiving their actions as being driven by national interests rather than the greater European good.”
This is a really worrying sign. True, the Commission has often been suspected in the past of succumbing to pressure from larger Member States. And the very procedure of election of commissioners is, after all, subject to compromise by the governments of the Member States themselves. But the independence of the Commission is not a joke, and the repercussions can be very harmful.
But why do we need an independent Commission in the first place? Well, the independence of the Commission is at the heart of the integration method (called, at least until now, the “Community method”). The independence of the Commission guarantees a more objective approach to the integration process that is removed from the political concerns of the separate Member States. That is why the Commission is entitled with exclusive right of legislative initiative. It also implements EU legislation at the Community level and monitors the implementation of EU law at national level by Member States. In other words, the independence of the Commission guarantees that Member States will not be able to bend the integration process in the direction of their own, singular interests.
Now, if some commissioners start to defend the singular interests of the Member States that they come from, we are in trouble. Once the suspicion spreads (as it is spreading right now), all Member States will try to project their interests to the Commission by pressuring their own commissioners. This will destroy the credibility of the Commission, and is also illegal.
In fact at least one author – Jean-Paul Jacqué, has warned that there is a danger of the Commission becoming an intergovernmental institution which is in competition with the Council. One of the checks against this danger has been the empowerment of the European Parliament, but it cannot be expected to mend the problem. The Commission President should work hard to dispel suspicions of wrongdoing, and if necessary – to request the resignations of certain commissioners. Member States should also refrain from unduly pressuring the Commission as in the case of the Roma expulsions from France.
The alleged breach of the principle of independence of the Commission is the most dangerous challenge to the European integration in recent times. Keeping in mind that the European Union is to get new powers of economic governance, such a suspicion can indeed derail the whole integration process once the really tough disputes start.