‘The European Commission has become a normal government'
Due to revisions in European treaties and the reform of the civil service, the European Commission has become increasingly similar to normal governments in recent years. This is what political scientist Anchrit Wille concludes in her new book 'The Normalization of the European Commission'.
The European Commission, previously often seen as the European Union’s civil service, has in recent years increasingly come to play a more political role. Since the debate on the 'democratic deficit' in the EU in the early 90s, a long series of revisions in the Treaties changed the legal and political framework within which the Commission operates. The power of the European Parliament has significantly increased, not only in the drafting of legislation, but also in the democratic control and accountability of the European Commission. The Commission therefore increasingly has to take the European Parliament into account. Each new Commissioner, for instance, has to appear before parliament and answer questions.
The political control by the European Parliament has significantly changed the Commission. Commissioners have started to act as ministers. They are not quasi-civil servants but professional politicians. They need to explain their policies to the outside world and are politically accountable to the European Parliament and the media. Internally there is a strong separation between the political level, the commissioners and the administration of the Commission, the Directors General. The latter are not selected on their nationality or their political loyalty, but on the basis of expertise. Thus, the Commission has increasingly become a real government, with a clear separation between politics and administration.
In 2014 after the election of the new European Parliament, the EU will go one step further: the President of the European Commission will be elected by the European Parliament (rather than, as previously, being appointed by the European Council). The distribution of seats in the European Parliament, but also the choice for the President of the European Commission, will depend on the election results. Based on the findings in her study Ms. Wille argues that European citizens should seize the political campaign to widen the public debate on the future political direction of the Union in the coming elections. Political parties should play an important role in this. European political 'families' could implement a Europe-wide political campaign and come up with suitable candidates who will be eligible for the presidency of the European Commission.
With the election of the President of the Commission, the European Commission will in fact become more democratic than many national governments. Democratic accountability provisions are currently in place around the Commission; what is important now is the input and involvement of European citizens.
(1 July 2013)
‘The Normalization of the European Commission: Politics and Bureaucracy in the EU Executive’ by Anchrit Wille is published by Oxford University Press.
Anchrit Wille works as senior researcher at Leiden University’s Campus The Hague and has previously published on political-administrative relations, executive politics, accountability and European governance. She currently writes on Euro democracy.
Anchrit Wille, Institute of Public Administration, Campus The Hague, Leiden University
Telephone: +31(0)6 139 56873 or +31(0)71-527 1783/ 3888