The Brief – Who reforms the reformers?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [360b/ Shutterstock]

Jean-Claude Juncker today rolled out a whole host of ideas for changing the way the EU does business. But a call for more transparency by Ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly yesterday is the real way the bloc can improve itself.

Does the European Union need to be changed completely in order to function better and stave off Euroscepticism? Or does it just need to do what it already does but better? It’s a debate the current Commission has grappled with since 2014.

Today’s list of ideas from EU executive head-honcho Juncker was a mixture of both philosophies, ranging from fundamental change to mild tinkering, from merging the Commission and Council presidencies to simply redoing the Spitzenkandidaten process next year.

The idea of a double-hatted president isn’t a new one though and it’s already been branded as a “simplistic” solution to the division of powers dilemma. One of the supposed benefits of the merger would be to strike a blow to anti-EU sentiment and stamp out “Brussels-blaming”.

It could actually have the opposite effect, given that Juncker outlined the idea of concentrating power in one individual just as Daily Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson accused the EU once again of trying to build a superstate.

So there’s a better way to make the EU better: listen to the Ombudsman.

In a list of recommendations presented yesterday, Emily O’Reilly urged the Council to start recording which positions member states take during discussions on draft legislation. She also denounced the “widespread practice” of marking documents confidential.

The Ombudswoman even went as far to say that it “constitutes maladministration”, a serious indictment. What the Council is doing is also dangerous.

When the doors close and national reps start tearing apart draft laws, it is nigh-on impossible to know which countries are in favour of something and which are blocking progress. (Imagine the stress levels when we’re reporting on this stuff).

How can governments legitimately say they are representing their citizens when it is currently difficult-in-the-extreme to hold them to account? Having a dual-presidency might make things more efficient but the process would still be critically hamstrung.

Too often we have seen national leaders fly back home and spout drivel like “Brussels is imposing this on us”, fully aware that their ambassadors had voted fully in favour of the proposal. That stops, or at least becomes slightly harder, if positions are recorded and published for all to see.

That is not to say that there isn’t some value in Juncker’s other proposals. We don’t need 28 Commissioners, national parties should say what European party they intend to join (*cough* Macron *cough*), and the most must be made of the UK vacating its Parliament seats.

It’s also encouraging to see the Citizens’ Dialogue initiative go from strength to strength. Last month it really paid off when the first piece of legislation directly influenced by a CDI, rules on drinking water, was rolled out by the Commission.

But these ideas are dented body panels and cracked windscreens on the EU car. It’s the engine that needs real work and that means opening up the bonnet and having a good look inside. The Council has until May to reply to the Ombudsman.

The Roundup

Eurozone Commissioner Pierre Moscovici stopped by the EURACTIV office today to sit down and talk to Jorge Valero about institutional reform, budgets and Greece.

Bitcoin’s price may be down more than 50% but in Iceland power for cryptocurrency mining has overtaken household use for the first time anywhere, reshaping the country’s economy.

According to a leaked Commission document, online platforms should remove posts promoting terrorism within one hour after receiving complaints. The draft sparked backlash from civil liberties NGOs and lobby groups.

After learning about the appalling conditions on the spot in refugee camps in Bangladesh, MEPs have called for increased efforts in dealing with the Rohingya crisis. EURACTIV’s partner efe-epa reports from Kutupalong, Bangladesh.

If the City of London’s financial district became famous for being the UK’s cash cow, the country’s tech sector has become similarly valuable. But it also is one of the most vulnerable to a ‘hard Brexit’.

Chief Brexiteer Boris Johnson wants to make an attempt to bridge divisions between Remain and Leave supporters by kick-starting a series of high-profile speeches by Theresa May’s ministers on leaving the EU.

Fresh from the news that the Commission will decide in March whether to launch legal action against nine member states over illegal air pollution levels, Germany is mulling the idea of providing free public transport to tackle toxic smog.

Never got the chance to go on an Erasmus exchange? Fear not: one 80-year-old Spaniard is proving that age is just a number by going to Italy to finish his studies.

Look out for…

High Representative Federica Mogherini is in Rome to deliver a key-note speech on European Defence at the Italian parliament.

Views are the author’s

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