The state of the Union’s democratic process

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

The European Commission's democratic legitimacy is still an important issue that should be thoroughly analysed in a future revision of the treaties, writes Paulo Rangel.

Paulo Rangel is a Portuguese MEP and the vice-president of the European People's Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament. He is rapporteur on the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon with respect to the European Parliament.

Although the European Commission’s role as the ‘engine’ driving forward European activity has not been put into question by the Treaty of Lisbon, over the past four years, the Commission has, in practice, lost some of its political influence within the EU institutional architecture.

Such erosion of the Commission’s power is, to a large extent, related with the economic and financial crisis that works to the advantage of the European Council’s intervention and authority and favours the intergovernmentalism to the detriment of the so-called ‘community method’.

The deepening the European integration and the safeguarding of the Community method require a stronger Commission, playing a key role in the European institutional framework.

It is of the utmost importance to consider all possible solutions in order to strengthen its democratic legitimacy, its political influence and its efficiency, either under existing treaties or in the context of a future revision of such treaties.

Europe’s political leaders need to link more directly the voters’ choice to the election of the Commission’s president. The voters have to be much more involved in European politics and this proposition will allow them to influence directly the political choices.

The scope of the report prepared by the Constitutional Affairs Committee on the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon with respect to the European Parliament was to make an assessment of the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, analysing in particular the implications of the main changes it introduced on the inter-institutional relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission since its entry into force.

Under the current treaties and with a view to the 2014 elections to the European Parliament, we must stand by the proposal for the designation of candidates for the Commission presidency by the European political parties

In this respect and notwithstanding the preference for a parliamentary model or a presidential approach with the direct election of the Commission president, an excessive parliamentarisation of the system should be avoided and the principle of the separation of powers should be kept in mind.

To that extent and in order to reinforce the parliament’s scrutiny powers, MEPs should reduce the majority currently required for a motion of censure against the Commission, call on the candidate for president of the Commission to present his political program to the European Parliament and draw attention to the importance of the Union’s annual and multiannual programming.

On the other hand, the autonomy for the president of the Commission to choose members of his team should be increased, under the principle of the separation of powers, and he should not be forced to request the resignation of the commissioners. Therefore, in the committee report there is no reference to the vote of non-confidence against individual commissioners.

In what concerns the efficiency of the Commission and since the envisaged reduction of the Commission’s size will no longer take effect in 2014, due to the decision taken by the European Council upon request of the Irish government, the committee report proposes the establishment of a system of strictly equal rotation between Commissioners with portfolio and Commissioners without portfolio, reflecting the demographic and geographical range of all EU member states.

This system would improve the Commission functioning by ensuring a relative stability in the number and in the content of portfolios and facilitating the internal coordination procedures, guaranteeing at the same time that the representation of specificities and interests of all member states would be considered in the decisions taken by the Commission.

To that end, all commissioners should remain of equal legal status and the right of the Commissioners without portfolio to participate in the decision-making process should be fully recognised.   

Furthermore and taking into account that the Treaty of Lisbon has considerably strengthened the role of the European Parliament, providing it with important new powers regarding EU legislation and international agreements, the Parliament’s and the Commission’s performance and their interaction in these domains were up for assessment.

While the Parliament has succeeded in having its new powers and its role as a responsible co-legislator recognised and while important progresses were achieved in its relations with the Commission, there are still a number of issues and shortcomings. The sharing of information, the delegated and the implementing acts, the impact assessment, the treatment of legislative initiatives and the parliamentary questions… All call for closer attention and action.

Finally and bearing in mind the principle of mutual sincere cooperation between the institutions, the recommendations are now out on the revision of the Framework agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission and invite the Council to participate in a separate trilateral agreement with the Parliament and Commission. The aim is to further develop some technical issues, laid down in so far in the inter-institutional agreement on better lawmaking, in the bilateral arrangement between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers and partially in the framework agreement.

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