A stronger Commission is not the same as a stronger Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Commission has a habit of trying to stretch the budget as much as possible. [Photo: Council]

It is a dangerous myth to believe that maximising the role of the European Commission is  synonymous with a stronger, wealthier Europe, writes Gunnar Hökmark.

Gunnar Hökmark is chairman of the think tank Stockholm Free World Forum and a former Member of the European Parliament 

There is one thing we can learn from the last days of dramatic days of negotiations and conflicts between the member states regarding the MFF and the Recovery Fund: It is a dangerous myth that maximizing the role of the Commission is the same thing as maximizing the strength and wealth of Europe.

The Commission has a crucial role in the European legislation process as well as in preparing and formulating the policies of the EU in all relevant areas. But it is also the servant of the Member States and guardian of the treaty.

It is not meant to be an economic actor in its own right, or a political institution going its own way. Its role is to be part of a framework connecting European institutions on all levels in order to make Europe and the EU strong, not to make itself as strong as possible.

Every long-term budget process during my terms as an MEP was characterized by the same problems. The Commission tried to stretch the budget as much as possible. Also, instead of prioritizing to make the budget easily adopted, it forced others to make these priorities, challenging the budget rules as well as the Member States while flirting with all interests in favour of an increase.

The lack of priorities and the demands for more spending were the most usual ground for tensions in the final budget negotiations. Always wanting to spend more by letting others pay more, avoiding conflicts that Member States in the end must take responsibility for during never-ending meetings.

The problem is that the Commission repeatedly designs its budget proposals in order to extend its mandate, its influence, its role and its spending in conflict with earlier decisions and red lines. There is no Member State in which it would be possible or even acceptable for the executive branch to prepare the budgets in order to strengthen itself at the cost of its principals rather than to balance spending with incomes and priorities.

In the case of the Recovery fund, the doctrine of always stretching for more powers has reached new heights: a proposal with gigantic amounts of unfinanced subsidies in the hands of Commission, with investment plans and handouts to Member States, based on the belief that the Government is best at directing investments to the best opportunities. This idea has been tested so many times and each one of them has proved that a strong Government does not give a strong economy. The US dominance in high- tech is not because of public funding but on vital markets. Politically planned investments belong to planned economies and do not work even there.

So, now that we have a package adopted, it is time to ask how we are to act in the future, if we want to avoid a Europe that time and again proves its weakness in taking decisions that are ill-prepared and put member states against each other. The current process feeds frustration and dissatisfaction in the electorates, in those who hoped for more as well as in those who must pay for more. It is time that we hold the Commission accountable for all the problems it is putting us in. That’s the only way it will take full responsibility for the future.

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