Tag Archives: Jose Manuel Barroso

The Hidden Agenda of the State of the European Union Debate

Many fellow bloggers have done a great job covering the State of the European Union address by Jose Manuel Barroso and the parliamentary debate that followed both in their blogs (see Grahnlaw and Jon Worth) and on Twitter. I will not discuss the issues in the debate or the qualities of the speakers in it.

However, I am very much interested in the (hidden) institutional framework of this debate. It is not uncommon for the Commission president to outline his legislative program before the European Parliament, as Andrew J. Burgess has pointed out. However, the new format appears similar to the US State of the Union address delivered by the President. Does this mean that Barroso sees himself as the head of state of the EU? Hardly the case, but there is some symbolic value in this endeavour.

More importantly, the President of the European Parliament made this observation via Twitter:

“This is the first time we have a debate on the State of the Union. It is a step on the road to a parliamentary Europe.”

If this is not an empty statement, it should be revealing the conviction of the Parliament that we’re moving on that road to “parliamentary Europe”. The Parliament has been claiming this for many years, but the difference today is that it has more instruments to actually influence both the work of the Commission and the policy choices of the EU. So it may turn out that Mr. Buzek’s comment reveals not only an objective for the future, but also some satisfaction with the results already achieved.

The Missing Link in the Eurozone Governance Debate

The President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy proposed a “crisis cabinet”. He said that “there is not much hierarchy or organic links between the main players and the main institutions”. The idea is to include the European Comission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet and Mr Van Rompuy himself in this “crisis cabinet”.

At the same time the President of the European Commission called Germany’s plans on improving economic governance in the eurozone as “naïve”. He believes that any treaty reform is not feasible in the moment.

To me it is apparent that the debate is triangular – among the Commission, the ECB, and the European Council, leaving one player out. The European Parliament, that is.

In a way this is understandable. Any further integration of economic governance will encroach on state sovereignty. That is why it is essential to have sound support in the Member States for any further reform.

Then again, the weak conditionality of the Stability and Growth pact, as negotiated by the Member States, failed to perform. Any coordination mechanism short of Treaty reform will probably go the same way. We can see this in the conceptual disputes between Germany and France during the years and even today.

True, the EP did have a debate on economic governance coordination last week. But did it really influence the debate in the EU? Did it reach the European citizens? I am not so sure.

The dark scenario is political divergence rather then convergence. This may well be happening, given some unilateral steps made by Germany. But it should not surprise us – governments do calculate their own tactical interest, betting against the other participants in the currency union. In fact, history is full of such examples where currency unions dissolute due to political disagreement.

The European leaders seem to believe that they can “fix” the eurozone on an intergovernmental level with the support of the ECB, preferably without introducing Treaty reform. It would be great, but it is not possible.

That is why it would be much, much better if the European Parliament had a stronger voice in the debate. It is in the moment the only institution that can provide a forum for open deliberation of diverging political ideas for reform.

On a bitterer note – Member States may well circumvent the public discussion, but they will not fool the markets.

Strategic Centralization in the Commission

The new rules of procedure are published in the Official Journal. The main institutional innovation is the emergence of the political guidelines as the indispensable strategic document for all Commission policies. The political guidelines are laid down unilaterally by the Commission President (art. 3). There will be no multiannual strategic objectives that used to be adopted by the Commission, neither an annual policy strategy. The Commission will only adopt a working program and a draft budget each year.

As I pointed out when Mr. Barroso initially submitted his political guidelines to the European Parliament, we are entering a new phase of institutional relations in the EU. Not only will Mr. Barroso try to stick to his commitments in the political guidelines, but now he has a formal instrument to enforce them to a much larger degree in the college of commissioners.

I am unsure of the benefits of this strategic centralization. It may turn out to be a good instrument for policy coordination; however, I am concerned about the quality of deliberation in the decision-making process of the Commission.

Why Jeleva?

We now have the statement by Mr. Barroso and by the legal services of the European Parliament on the supposed conflict of interests of the Bulgarian commissioner designate, Rumiana Jeleva. As I have promised, now I should deliver my own opinion on her candidature.

This is a difficult task since Mrs. Jeleva is a colleague – a lecturer at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. But my purpose in this blog has always been to honestly monitor the Bulgarian participation in European affairs, and this case simply cannot be overlooked.

So the question stands – why Jeleva? Why her of all people? I do not have any idea. In fact, I have not heard of any substantial justification of her candidature. Once the scandal broke out there were some quite unclear statements by the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Mr. Boyko Borisov, saying that she is intelligent, competent, etc. But nobody actually assessed in public her personal qualities that matter for the job. That is why it was so difficult for me to evaluate her chances to get a serious portfolio – such as energy or the enlargement.

Later there were rumors. Mr. Borisov and other party officials at GERB – the ruling party, say that they knew early on about the staging of a campaign in the European Parliament against Mrs. Jeleva. This is very, very strange. If the Bulgarian officials knew about the pending disaster, why didn’t they prevent it??? So why choose Jeleva after all?

There is more. Let’s not forget where Bulgaria stands in the European Union. We are constantly associated with one word only in Brussels – and that is corruption. We are still aiming at entering Schengen area and the eurozone. We are trying to convince the European Commission that we can manage and control EU funds efficiently and transparently. Even one new speck on the tarnished image of Bulgaria can be overwhelming. What we got instead was some really, really bad coverage (see Economist’s Charlemagne, FT’s Tony Barber and Liberation’s Jean Quatremer among others).

The Jeleva affair may be treated as a sign of the times, given the greater powers of the European Parliament after the Treaty of Lisbon. But shouldn’t we be all the more careful keeping in mind the stronger position of the Parliament? How is Mrs. Jeleva supposed to work with the MEPs when many claim she is unacceptable?

Today may be the decisive moment for Mrs. Jeleva. She may or may not become a commissioner. But I demand a clear answer to one question only – why was Mrs. Rumiana Jeleva proposed as a Bulgarian candidate for commissioner?

Portfolio Distribution for Barroso II Commission

We now have the distribution of portfolios in the new college of commissioners. Three new portfolios are created: Climate Action; Home Affairs; Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

Joaquín Almunia will be Vice-President of the Commission together with Siim Kallas, Neelie Kroes, Viviane Reding, Maroš Šefcovic and Catherine Ashton.

The Bulgarian commissioner Rumiana Jeleva will be responsible for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

 

List of the Future Commissioners

All Member States have now nominated Commissioners designate. President Barroso will now proceed with the allocation of portfolios. Hearings at the European Parliament will then take place in January before the College of Commissioners as a whole will be subject to a vote of approval by the European Parliament.

Important Institutional Dimensions of the Commission Selection Process

Now we have Jose Manuel Barroso approved as the next President of the European Commission. However, the procedure does not end here; now the College of commissioners should be selected.

This, in turn, demands the exploration of two problems, relevant to the composition of the next Commission, as well as to its political orientation.

First, as I have already pointed out, for the first time the President of the Commission has presented his political program before being approved by the European Parliament. One can say that this was made on the spur of the moment. However, during the debate prior to the approval vote, Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberals and democrats in the EP, had this to say:

“Our support is very clear. It is conditional. That means that our support will last until we see that these elements [from the political guidelines] will be found in the whole program of the Commission (…)

Finally, our support also will depend, as you know it, on the new structure of the Commission.”

This statement by Mr. Verhofstadt means that the future Commission will be put under direct political scrutiny at least by the liberal democrats and more, that Mr. Barroso will have to accommodate particular demands on the structure and distribution of mandates in the Commission.

Second, and much, much more important – we have the issue of the Treaty of Lisbon. Even if the referendum in Ireland is successful, I very much doubt that all ratification documents will be deposited with the Italian government before October, 31st. That is very important, because art. 6 of the Treaty of Lisbon says that it will enter into force “on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last signatory State to take this step.” There are many signals that the Czech Republic and/or Poland may delay the ratification.

Now, if the Treaty of Lisbon has not entered into force on November 1st, then we need to elect the European Commission by the rules provided by the Treaty of Nice. That follows from art. 4, para. 2 and the following of the Treaty of Nice. The rules of that treaty stipulate that the number of commissioners should be less than 27. More, these rules require the unanimous approval by the Council of a “rotation system based on the principle of equality” for the election of members of the Commission.

commission

Some say that we can approve the college by the rules of the Treaty of Lisbon provided that we have certainty about the future date of entry into force of that treaty (say, in December). Unfortunately this is not the case. If the Treaty of Lisbon has not entered into force on November, 1st and if the Commission was appointed by the rules of that same treaty, then anyone can challenge the legality of that act of appointment on the basis of violation of primary Community law.