September 23, 2010
Despite the changed circumstances, the debate over the effectiveness of the ‘Community method’ as compared with ‘intergovernmentalism’, rages on. Those who regard themselves as ‘true believers’ see the Community method as the Holy Grail. There is a belief that the Community method equates to Jean Monnet’s methodology. The European Council is anathema to them as the symbol of intergovernmentalism.
One of the results is constant inter-institutional turf wars, currently typified in the establishment of the European External Affairs Service (EEAS).
Monnet did not talk in terms of such a struggle. There is nothing to be found in his own memoirs or biography by François Duchêne. As for the European Council, this was a Monnet creation, established under Giscard d’Estaing’s presidency.
The EU environment has drastically changed, with four new treaties (Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Lisbon), the creation of the single market, considerably more EU competence and extensive majority voting.
The creation of the three pillar structure by the Maastricht Treaty was denounced by the ‘believers’. However, looking back, third pillar activity was very successful and led to the communitarisation of justice and home affairs (JHA). The CFSP (common foreign & security policy) remains essentially intergovernmental, but has been further developed by the Lisbon Treaty, in particular with the appointment of a High Representative for Common Foreign & Security Policy and the creation of the EEAS. This is fully understandable and it will take a long time for CFSP to become subject to majority voting (although there is a ‘passerelle’ in the Lisbon Treaty and a provision for ‘enhanced cooperation’.
The competence and back up support by the Commission is the key influence for making serious progress in CFSP, just as it has been in JHA. The advantage of the Commission is that it serves a fixed term and can think longer term, as opposed to national leaders who have to worry about the next election. The Commission’s problem is that it is not seen to be legitimate. It is democratic, its members being appointed by elected governments. Legitimacy depends on competence and effectiveness.
There is no longer any space for an ideological confrontation between the Community method and intergovernmentalism. The lines have been deeply blurred by the double hatted High Representative who is also Vice President of the Commission. Our approach should be pragmatic and there should be a mixture of the two approaches, depending on the circumstances. CFSP will remain intergovernmental for a long time, but the extent of the Commission role will largely determine the extent to which the EU is involved qua EU. Powers and influence flow to the Commission where it provides effective support for the Member States and avoids being egotistical. The communitarisation of JHA is a graphic example.
The present Commission is not acting effectively overall. A Commissioner should not speak about a European Council member as Viviane Reding did with Nicolas Sarkozy over the Roma, however right she may have been. This is not how to influence. Worse still, it reduces the trust the Member States have in the Commission, and will encourage them to leave the Commission out where it is not obligatorily consulted.
Herman Van Rompuy’s rightly seeks to bring cohesion within the European Council and between the EU institutions. The European Council’s treaty requirement is that it shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define its general political directions and priorities.
The idea of downgrading the European Council summits, with EU leaders meeting more regularly in dialogue is an excellent one. This would end the nonsense of writing conclusions on diverse issues not discussed at the meeting and the media cavalcade with competing stories from the EU leaders. It might also reduce unseemly egotistical, public rows, like that between Presidents Sarkozy and Barroso at the September Summit. However, for this to work, summits have to be better prepared than the September one.Author : Stanley Crossick