Ex-Commission officials: ‘reshape the EU executive’

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

Three sources have said the Commission has delayed the sales of the troubled Italian banks. [European Union]

As EU leaders ponder the shape of the next European Commission, a number of ex-Commission officials argue it is about more than just efficiency. Reshaping the Commission is key to fulfil the expectations of member states and citizens, they argue.

The Friends of the European Commission include a broad range of former EU officials, advisers and private sector representatives, mentioned below.

Institutions do matter. Much of the commentary after the European elections has focused on personalities and tactical power games. However there has been little analysis of how the European institutions can function more effectively and better meet citizens’ expectations.

Key among the EU institutions is the European Commission, which is essential for implementing Europe’s political agenda. Now that the new president has been nominated by heads of state and government, the time has come to support him in re-shaping the institution along focused and leaner priorities.

Recognising the pressing need for organisational reform, a group comprising former senior EU civil servants and private sector representatives have come together under the name of ‘Friends of the European Commission’. This group has produced a working paper that proposes a number of significant changes to the way the Commission operates.

The key starting point of this proposal is the belief that the organisation has been stretched to its limit in order to cope with increasing political demands, while also maintaining its prerogatives. The principle of collegiality among commissioners has been further undermined and is becoming harder to implement with the high number of commissioners. Commissioners are increasingly working within silos that reinforce a lack of coordination and operational efficiency within the Commission. The ideal would be to reduce their number, as foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty, but this does not seem politically feasible in the foreseeable future.

As the status quo is not an option, the group believes that the future President of the European Commission should reaffirm the authority, efficiency and credibility of the institution by taking a few decisions which should have a decisive impact on the organisation.

The overarching proposal is to reform the Commission’s organisational set-up and way of functioning while redistributing all portfolios into thematic clusters around a system of vice presidents. Meanwhile, the new organisation should reflect the priority policy challenges of the EU and also mirror the competences of the European Commission. Everything that does not serve the purpose of fulfilling the achievement of the agreed political priorities should be discarded.

  • Around political “clusters”

The group is convinced that having five vice presidents overseeing and coordinating a number of commissioners in clusters would improve the effectiveness of the institution. These clusters should reflect key policy objectives that could fall under the following headings: “Strong & autonomous Europe”; “Powerful economic area”; “Sustainable, digital and competitive Europe”; “Cohesive territorial Europe”; and “Citizen’s Europe”. These five clusters would be rather balanced when one takes into account the overall number of personnel overseen, the level of responsibilities and the budgetary clout.

  • The Kern Model

The Belgian “Kern” model would serve as a good means to assist the Commission with the implementation of clusters. This model would involve the president and the vice presidents meeting on a weekly basis and serve as a driving force for the entire College of Commissioners. The president should, whenever possible, seek a broad consensus within the College of Commissioners.

However, the president should have recourse to the voting procedure as soon as he/she thinks a proposal is backed by the relevant vice president and is likely to receive a majority within the College. Such measures would not impinge on the collegiality principle (one vote per commissioner) that would still prevail but they would dramatically enhance the overall efficiency of the Commission.

  • Reconnecting with people

The European Commission should be more visible, interactive and inclusive. The group is suggesting that two commissioners be placed directly under the president so as to allow for better communication and interaction with EU citizens and national parliaments. They should provide a regular update on the achievement of the agreed political priorities. To this end, the Commission should set itself key performance indicators to allow for a better evaluation of its activities.

  • A more accountable institution

Finally, the European Commission should put greater emphasis on public policy evaluation and financial control. All regulations, directives, and multi-annual programmes need to be regularly assessed within a few years of implementation. The recently approved REFIT programme (Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme) should also be enhanced. Moreover, objectives should not be announced unless the Commission has the necessary powers and resources to deliver them. At the same time, “Performance budgeting” should be one of the key priorities of the next Commission to reassure citizens that their money is well spent.

What is at stake is more than improving an organisation’s efficiency. It is also about meeting citizen’s legitimate concerns. These changes are necessary and attainable in order to empower the Commission to meet the expectations of member states and citizens in today’s rapidly changing world. The group’s suggestions aim at giving the Commission the tools that will help it to reform itself in the direction of greater effectiveness and accountability.

Friends of the European Commission, coordinated by Michel Troubetzkoy, gathers former senior EU civil servants and private sector representatives, including Alain Berger, Claude Chêne, Jim Currie, Julien Feugier, Hervé Jouanjean, Nancy Kontou, Jacques Lafitte, Philippe Maystadt, Jean-Paul Mingasson, Jean-Claude Piris, and Dr Alexander Schaub.

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