This article has been written by Yeliz Haciosmanoglu and Francesco Grillo
Barroso’s pompous state of the union speech in the European Parliaments plenary session on the 26th of September depicts a European Commission with two faces: one that aspires to be the pioneer of saving the world from the atrocities of the financial and economic crisis and the other that is in crisis itself. The former with a superman attitude and the latter that is reminiscent of a more humble Clark Kent.
The President of the European Commission admitted the failure of the intergovernmental approach to tackle the Union’s bottlenecks and one should commend Mr. Barroso for his courage, as unlike the President of the United States of America who delivers a more famous speech on the State of the Union before the Congress, he has to share the power with the Member States, his ultimate stakeholders that he has been criticizing. He may be right by claiming that Europe is facing a huge crisis that is mainly characterized by a vacuum of leadership, yet it is highly doubtful that the European Commission or, at least, the current commission can fill this gap.
We should first decide on whether the Commission is capable of using the powers it has been granted before accommodating its demand to expand their scope. In other words, its legitimacy shall be assessed against its deliverables. We can point out at least three areas where these deliverables failed to meet our expectations: The budget proposal; Commission’s regulation concerning its policies and spending in the next seven years; and the inefficiency of the Commission’s internal organization.
Firstly, the budget proposal in June indicates that the Commission aims at continuing to be the only executive body in the world that spends more than one third of its budget on protecting large farm owners. Doesn’t this contradict the Commission’s 2020 strategy, which aims at transforming the Union into a central hub of knowledge and innovation? How can the Commission be subdued to one Member State’s obsession with an archaic Common Agricultural Policy?
Moreover, how credible can a claim be to curb the excessive power of banks, the most powerful protagonists of the post-industrial era, if one is not even capable of coming to terms with the privileges of the last heirs of a pre-industrial age? How convincing is the President when he expresses his desire to be the frontrunner of a new phase in the European Neighborhood Policy following the Arab Spring while hampering food exports from, and the development of, our neighboring countries?
An even more striking example is the regulation on Commission’s spending in Union’s different policy fields. The rhetoric is one thing but the Commission proves very disappointing when it comes to deliver concrete results. Whilst “performance” is foreseen to be the new key to the management of structural funds which amount to 350 billion Euros, the second largest envelope of the EU budget following CAP with an objective to promote the development of less developed European regions; paradoxically, the Commission continues to allocate structural funds to regions rewarding administrations, i.e. in Southern Italy, that failed for four consecutive programming periods since 1988 to reach their development goals.
Why doesn’t the Presidentask Member States to help him to impose so called conditions that link money to performance instead of pretending that the Union is in perfect condition and asking for more responsibilities?
Concerning internal organization, the European Commission’s performance on many of its ‘bread and butter’ tasks is declining due to the organization’s low level of accountability. The heavy bureaucracy, extensive hierarchy, abundance of lobbyists and consulting firms, and parodies of ‘management by objective’ procedures put aside, the Directorates or units of Directorates within the Commission are neither given a clear set of targets nor the incentives to reach those targets.
We could easily blame Member States for European Commission’s inefficiency. However, in times of crisis when Union’s survival is at stake, the President of the Commission should be bold enough to say that he cannot be the ‘Prime Minister’ of a ‘government’ whose ministries and staff need to be identified along side their flag. This would be equivalent to have a US Cabinet composed of fifty departments and fifty secretaries representing each state. Any organization of this sort would destined to fragmentation and paralysis.
Manuel Barroso’s superman syndrome is quite particular. Whereas Superman needs to disguise himself as Clark Kent in order to hide his exceptionality, European Commission is forced to continuously produce Superman packages to hide its frail state. These grandiose ‘six-pack’ proposals coupled with the new treaties and additional taxes in response to the crisis are far from the need for increased flexibility and lightened institutions. We should not forget that Superman’s role is to be part of thesolution and not part of the problem. Please have the courage to put on that Clark Kent outfit and do what is right, not what is high flying.