September 11, 2010
The Commission President delivered to the European Parliament on 7 September his first State of the Union Message. This comprised a catalogue of current problems without offering concrete remedies. Implementation is the problem. President Barroso has a great opportunity in his second term to make a mark. But he should focus on a small number of key issues. His status will be achieved by the effectiveness of his actions and leadership, rather than by where he sits in relation to the European Council President.
A few comments on the content of the message:
• Barroso sees five major challenges for the Union over the next year. But to achieve what he seeks to achieve requires a successful response to a sixth challenge: how to improve the lamentable organization, management and bureaucracy that can be found in the Commission and Parliament.
• The President says that, “you can trust the European Union to do what it takes to secure your future”.
This would be true if there were effective implementation, which requires first class management.
• There is indeed “a willingness of governments to accept stronger [financial] monitoring, backed up by incentives for compliance and earlier sanctions.”
Barroso says that the Commission will strengthen its role as independent referee and enforcer of the new rules. The future of this very important exercise will be influenced by the Commission’s performance.
• “We will match monetary union with true economic union.” This sadly is a dream.
• The President sees as a key test whether the Member States are ready to agree an EU patent. “Our proposal is on the table… After decades of discussion, it is time to decide.”
This issue illustrates how the EU has lost is way. The subject has been debated for over 30 years. The cost of EU patent protection is 10 times that of US patent. The Commission proposed in July 2010 that a patent be granted in either English, French or German and translated into the other two languages. But there is still no agreement. Apart from the attitude of Member States who claim to promote innovation, it seems astonishing that industry, the main beneficiary, has failed to bring the necessary pressure on the recalcitrant governments.
• Barroso rightly draws attention to the fact that only 8% of Europe’s 20 million SMEs engage in cross-border trade, still fewer in cross-border investment. And even with the internet, over a third of consumers lack the confidence to make cross-border purchases. EU action has clearly been ineffective and yet progress would help economic growth.
• “We need to spend our money where we get most value for it. And we should invest it where it leverages growth and delivers on our European agenda. The quality of spending should be the yardstick for us all.”
The President should begin by improving the Commission’s organization, management and bureaucracy. It’s effectiveness within the EU institutions and its legitimacy depend on this.
• Barroso pointed out that part of a credible European budget is the rigorous pursuit of savings. “I am looking at the administrative costs within the Commission and other Community. We need to eliminate all pockets of inefficiency. We will build on recommendations from the Court of Auditors to improve financial management”.
Of course, but why was this not done during his first five year mandate?
• “We are making progress on a common foreign policy. But let’s be under no illusions: we will not have the weight we need in the world without a common defence policy. I believe now is the moment to address this challenge.”
The conventional idea is that a common foreign and security policy will lead to a common defence policy and hopefully one day to a common defence. The first step is obviously to reform government procurement, so that Europe does not have several competing models in each sector and also little harmonisation between them. Efforts so far have not been very successful: any effective initiative must be supported by France and the UK.