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Relancer l'Europe : Retrouver l'esprit de Rome - version anglaise

22 février 2017 : Relancer l'Europe : Retrouver l'esprit de Rome - version anglaise ( rapport d'information )

B. RENEWING THE INSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM: RESPONDING TO THE DEMOCRATIC CHALLENGE

The multiple crises facing the European Union, including sovereign debt, migrants, security and Brexit, raise questions on the function of the «institutional triangle» (European Commission, Council, Parliament) as well as on the role of promotion and coordination which the Treaties confer on the European Council.

Certain areas identified for improvement to strengthen European institutions require a revision of the Treaties. For this reason, they can only be achieved in the medium to long term, and not in the immediate future.

The monitoring group considers that the revision of Treaties is not a current priority.

The revision of texts stands to absorb the necessary political impetus for the re-founding of the Union, while failing to respond to the current aspirations of European citizens.

The initial purpose shall be focused on pragmatic solutions, which can be implemented very quickly, to achieve real, understandable and effective progress.

1. Strengthening the role of promotion and coordination of the European Council

The economic crisis and then the migrant crisis have highlighted the challenge of implementing clear and swift responses facing the European Union. These two events have actually highlighted the stratified nature of European institutions and the absence of embodiment of the Union. They have at the same time led to an emphasis on intergovernmental logic and to the revision of the role of the European Commission. The re-founding of the European project inevitably involves increased shared sovereignty in order to support a Federation of Nation States. However, based on Treaties which have been signed and ratified, this sharing should be permanently driven by Member States and proper coordination with the European Commission. The role of promotion and coordination of the European Council should therefore be reaffirmed in accordance with Article 13 of the Treaty on the European Union.

This is not about demonstrating the superiority of the intergovernmental logic over the Community method, but rather to efficiently reconcile the two approaches. The challenge of maintaining European momentum is today partly due to the incapacity of States to go beyond the Council's diplomatic logic. It should, rather, demonstrate their European commitment by collectively defining their European expectations. Nonetheless, the lack of understanding of European action is also linked to the excesses of the Community method and to a delayed awareness of the principal of subsidiarity.

In this context, it could be envisaged that the European Council each year adopts a declaration setting out a work programme for the European Union embracing a small number of priorities, with the Commission required to then implement them in further detail15(*).

The question regarding embodiment remains, the European Union is suffering from a lack of external visibility, and also in regard to its citizens the creation of the post of president of the European Council by the Treaty of Lisbon has not been erased. In this context, a revision of institutional architecture is often discussed, in the form of merging together the posts of president of the European Council and president of the European Commission. This could take place without changing the Treaties. It could however raise a certain number of questions regarding institutional balance. Would the European Commission be absorbed by the European Council or, alternatively, would the latter be set aside by the European Commission?

It would be more appropriate to consider strengthening the legitimacy of the president of the European Council. The aforementioned president is currently elected by the European Council. It could be envisaged that he/she is elected, at the proposal of the European Council, by the European Parliament and the Permanent Meeting of the National Parliaments (see below), gathered in congress. Election by the national parliaments would provide a genuine mission in terms of respect of the principal of subsidiarity. This strengthening of the legitimacy of the president of the Council would at the same time lead to the abolition of the revolving presidency at the Council. The coordinating role would then be transferred in full to the president of the European Council. This change would only be envisaged in the medium and long term, given that it would require a revision of the Treaties, which here is not the preferred way to rebuild the European Union.

2. Reviewing the function of the institutional triangle

Reaffirming the role of promotion of the European Council should not affect the existing balance between the Community method, namely the European Commission, and the intergovernmental method, namely the European Council. The building of Europe must remain a long-term vision.

Taking into account European Council requests, the European Commission should continue to present an annual work programme designed tightly around the common priorities and in respect of the principal of subsidiarity. The programme shall be discussed in the European Parliament and the Permanent Meeting of the National Parliaments. It would also retain the initiative in legislative matters.

The consolidation of the role of the European Commission does not rule out a revision of the way it is organised. The number of commissioners and directorates general (33 including support services) seems too high. The desire of the European Commission, since 2014, to focus on a maximum of ten priorities each year must be accompanied, in practice, by a redefinition of the categories of directorates general, including the merging of some and the adaptation, in turn, of human resources at their disposal. An identical examination should also be carried out on the number of European Union agencies (43). Consistency of their activities with those of national-level agencies should be sought, particularly in regard to communication.

Acknowledging this movement, the number of commissioners should be adapted accordingly. The system of one commissioner per State should also be abandoned given it can create activity portfolios which are anecdotal or lack provision. The clear hierarchy of posts desired by president Juncker, with the creation of seven vice-presidents, may have been a very positive first step. However, it has not produced all the expected benefits and has retained unnecessary overlaps (in particular in the case of economic and financial sectors and also foreign affairs). It is worth remembering that the capping of the number of commissioners was already envisaged by the Treaty of Nice and confirmed by the Treaty of Lisbon. It is a matter of returning to the original spirit of the founding fathers, with an extranational, focused and political Commission made up of high-level experts, promoting general interest, and not a supranational Commission with a tendency for over-regulation. A declaration annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon already stipulates the consequences of this reduction in the number of commissioners by insisting on the necessity, for the Commission, to take into account the political, economic and social realities of Member States which are not represented16(*).

Texts presented by the European Commission continue to be passed by the Council and the European Parliament. In order to strengthen its democratic legitimacy and given the necessary development of the European representation of national parliaments, a revision of the way European Parliament members are elected could be envisaged. In fact, as noted by the German Constitutional Court in 2009, the European Parliament is not currently a representative organ of a sovereign people, since it is made up of national contingents of members of parliament between whom there is significant representational inequality. For example a German MEP represents 860,000 people whereas a Maltese MEP represents just 67,000. It is appropriate, under such conditions, to implement a uniform voting system for the Union as a whole. The lists should respect the principals of fair demographic representation and gender equality. The number of parliamentarians should be reduced to 700, as opposed to the current 751. Once the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is ratified (73 MEPs), the number of parliamentarians can be reduced proportionally to 630. The representation of small Member States should however be guaranteed (minimum 6 parliamentarians).

The Council, for its part, would have qualified majority voting as the norm, except in the area of defence. Such a development would be made possible by the fact that the texts under consideration would be drawn from priorities adopted each year by the European Council in its work programme.


* 15 In exercising its right of initiative recognised by the Treaties.

* 16 Declaration on Article 17 of the Treaty on the European Union.