A new job description for EU Commissioners?

That’s what Paul Adamson argues for in today’s Financial Times.  The basis of the argument is that we should acknowledge that the commissioners are not a dispassionate executive branch of the European Union, but people who bring their country interests to their respective portfolios — so why not make this explicit and let the commissioners be the interlocutors of their countries with the EU policy apparatus?  Example: Charlie McCreevy

It is no secret in Brussels that Charlie McCreevy, Ireland’s commissioner, despite being responsible for the important single market portfolio, has regularly spoken out against moves to harmonise taxation in the EU. As an economic liberal he might well take this stance anyway but his awareness of the reaction to such a move back home might well have some influence on his thinking.

Adamson therefore argues Irish Lisbon referendum voters were justified in feeling that the reduction in the size of the Commission did represent a loss in national influence — and that other populations should expect to feel the same way.

Nevertheless, this seems like an odd way to improve accountability.  Citizens of each EU country already have a seat at the policymaking table through the Council of Ministers.  So are we saying that there is something wrong with these democratic mechanisms requiring a political appointee to offset?  Now indeed Ireland does seem to have an accountability deficit through the Dail, since the voters have made Fianna Fail the natural party of government and yet never seem that excited about the quality of government in months not containing a general election.  But it’s still a stretch, I think, to argue that voters could latch on to a commissioner as their man in Brussels even if they think their own governments aren’t already doing that job.

7 thoughts on “A new job description for EU Commissioners?

  1. But do you accept the premise? I sure don’t. Country of origin just isn’t as important as the view’s of the various commision advisors and tehcnocrat, the views of the directorate staff, your ideology, the ideology of the commission as a whole…

  2. I don’t accept the premise either. Even in terms of ideology, McCreevy is a much more “house-trained” commssioner than when he first went in. The environment matters.

  3. Well, there are problems with the Council of Ministers as representation of national interests, for all that this is supposed to be its raison d’etre. Unlike a directly elected representative, the ministers have no incentive at all to raise a fuss if the council votes in a way they don’t like on some issue – or even to trumpet their achievement if a vote goes their way. So the national representative is never ‘seen to be’ representing out interests.

    I think that for this reason, the representative to the /council of ministers/ should be elected. The interesting thing about that is that it could probably be done without having to edit any treaties. How? by doing it at a national level, one country at a time. Because the whole point of the council is to represent the national interests, no-one can complain about how a country chooses its representative, so long as the various conditions in the treaties are fulfilled.

    I blogged about this a while back:

  4. # P O’Neill Says: McCreevy is a much more “house-trained” commissioner than when he first went in.

    Funny guy, you obviously don’t work for him… (I do.)

  5. I think that it is rather a shortcoming of the present commissioners if they represent their countries’ interests and do not work in favour of the joint EU interests (whatever this is in certain fields).

    Having a double national representation through Council and Commission would be totally in contrary to the idea of the European Union, and it would also counteract the intentions to reduce the numbers of commissioners – because if they represented countries, we would need 27 (or more if more countries enter the Union).

  6. Why not go the other way, and break the link between commissioners and countries? Have them elected by parliament. The current nominated-by-a-country-but-don’t-represent-that-country thing just isn’t credible.

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