Analyst: Barroso should discipline ‘loose cannon’ commissioners

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Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, who promised in an election ad in his native Poland that his country would get €70 billion from the next EU budget, should be disciplined by the Commission President, or else the European Parliament may have to sanction the entire Commission, policy analyst Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski told EURACTIV in an interview.

Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

He was speaking to EURACTIV's Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

What do you think of Commissioner Lewandowski's participation in an election event in Poland and of the fact that he can now be seen in a promotional video promising the Polish voters €70 billion from the next EU long-term budget? I have to add that the EU budget is far from having been agreed. Lewandowski as budget Commissioner is indeed one of the players involved, but won't the decision be a compromise between a lot of players?

The Commission is a body independent from national governments. There is a very thin line between being independent and being cooperative. And this is the thin line that the Commission has to walk. That's why for the Commission it has been a very important task to keep in contact with governments and enjoy their trust, but at the same time remain an independent, separate institution, autonomous vis-à-vis member state governments.

This is why Commissioner Lewandowski has been in breach. A worrisome element is that he has breached the rules with the knowledge of President Barroso and with the approval of President Barroso.

In that clip, he is presented as the advocate of the Polish government in the Commission. This ad is not only a political ad, campaigning for a party. This ad is about the Polish government, and the future Polish government's approach in negotiations with the EU. The message of this ad is that this political party is a better team, working towards obtaining achievements for the Polish government.

Something like: 'Vote for us, because I hold the key to the EU's coffers'?

You can call it like that. It means that Commissioner Lewandowski is part of the team that is going to work, on behalf of the Polish government, for the success of the Polish government. This is what this ad is about. This is breaching the autonomy of the Commission.

But the Commission considers the case closed, a spokeswoman for Barroso said he authorised Lewandowski's participation to one party event, this is what happened, full stop.

Yes, but this is fundamentally wrong. Because the MFF (the Multiannual Financial Framework, or the budget for the period 2014-2020) has not been accepted. The Commission is only beginning to put forward legislative proposals, it just tabled a first draft. Until the file is completed and accepted and approved, this issue is pending.

By the way, recently Commissioner Lewandowski spoke against the Commission policies on climate change…

…which was the challenge to another big Commission principle, Commission collegiality. Each and every commissioner has to stand by what the Commission as a collective body thinks.

You are saying he has breached two principles: independence and collegiality?

Yes. Apparently he has apologised for making the climate change gaffe. For the first gaffe he has been cleared. But I'm not blaming him. I'm blaming President Barroso, because the responsibility lies with the Commission President.

You are Polish, as is Lewandowski. Are you critical because you have an issue with him?

I don't have an issue with him! I like the guy. I think he is a good commissioner. I think he is a very respected person. I even think that this government has been very successful with Europe. I think they run a good EU presidency. But this is a case where clearly, there is a breach between the commissioner and the principles under which he should operate.

Do you think Barroso has been too lax lately with some "loose canons" among his Commissioners? I'm thinking of Commissioner Günter Oettinger who recently said that the flags of countries under bailout should be hoisted at half mast. The issue is probably not closed yet, some MEPs have asked him to resign.

I disagree with that. I think that in the debate we have right now, the commissioners have the right to speak. They absolutely have this right, they are a political body. My problem is when the relation between the Commissioners and the national governments becomes too close.

Or too distant, for that matter. Because we have had situations, when a government changes at 180 degrees, then there is a disconnect between the commissioner and the national government. This disconnect is equally detrimental to the functioning of the system, but it is at least legal.

Here we can discuss, and it will be for the court to decide, should the issue be brought to the court. In any case, the independence of commissioners from national governments is in the treaty.

Should rules for commissioners be made more strict, or should they just be respected?

They should be respected and should be followed. If somebody makes a mistake like this, there should be consequence for him. And since President Barroso has okayed this issue, I think there should be consequences for President Barroso. The Lisbon Treaty is very precise: Responsibility for commissioners' behavior lies with the president of the Commission. Simple, clear. Each of them is subject to removal only by President Barroso, only he can take them down.

And who can sanction Barroso? The Parliament? The Vatican?

[laughs] Only the Parliament. But not only Barroso, but the entire Commission, which includes Barroso.

I'm not saying that this is the course of action that should be taken. I'm saying that things like that should not be let go. Because this could be a breach of good practice, even a breach of EU law.

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