The reaction of Jean-Claude Juncker to the Nice attacks was interesting. In Le Soir, he stated:
“We have to ask ourselves when this is going to stop?” For months, I have been saying over and over again that the President of the Commission is a commentator, not a leader.
This same absence of authority was clear with Brexit. It is not Brussels putting pressure on London for a quick and fair exit from the EU – on the contrary, London is dictating the tempo!
The press is emphasising the toughness of the new Prime Minister and her chief negotiator David Davis. Even before negotiations have started, the balance of power is in favour of the ones leaving, not those staying.
The Commission’s current weakness has its origins in the weakness of its leader, contaminating the lower levels and creating parallel structures where everyone acts only on their own behalf and promotes their own personal interests. Supposedly banished under the Juncker era, the ‘silo culture’ persists, giving every Directorate-General unchecked autonomy and destroying what little collegiality is still left within the Commission.
What’s more, how can you have authority when you forget your priorities? Just after the Brexit vote, Juncker was in China. This is simply looking away when the house is on fire.
Absence of authority, absence of values
The hiring of Barroso by Goldman Sachs, while not illegal, demonstrates a desperate absence of values. However, it is true that, during his 10-year term, the former Commission President gave a performance at the very bottom of the value scale. Strong with the weak and weak with the strong, like he always has been. Lack of authority and loss of values goes hand in hand, feeding this vast current of Euroscepticism which is becoming dominant and threatens to take over.
An absence of authority and values is a very favourable breeding ground for the emergence of a bureaucratic Europe at the expense of a political Europe. The leaders are turning their attention to less important interests and the house is no longer in order. It is now made up of fiefdoms where – as I wrote five years ago in “Comitology: Hijacking European Power?” – the low-level civil servant has become the master of the EU.
Reading a recent book on Jacques Delors “The Man Who Did Not Want To Be King”, I was reminded in its opening lines of how, under his authority, the system was well-run: priorities, method, solidarity and uniform procedures in institutional practice. Without a method, the EU is treading water. Reviving the ‘Community method’ is essential.
Restoring Europeans’ desire to live together Despite Brexit and the electoral gains of anti-EU parties, I remain convinced that a majority of the population still supports the process of European integration. But despite this pro-European attitude, they are opposed to the bureaucratic, free-trade Europe given to them over the past
15 years. This fringe of ‘critical Europhiles’ is voting more and more with the Eurosceptics, for the simple reason that they despair of a Europe devoted to big business, social inequality and obscure technical regulations.
We have to restore some direction. One of the ways to do this involves exploiting differences instead of just enduring them. There are certain politicians, analysts and think tanks thinking outside the box for ways to revitalise the EU, with some proposing a two-speed Europe: a Europe of two circles, Europe à la carte, choose whatever name you want.
Maintaining this idea of a ‘two-speed Europe’ restores direction by allowing those who want more integration to pursue this path while allowing others to focus strictly on trade, in line with their convictions and culture; all the while remaining part of a large European family that nobody wants to leave. This is basically what the UK ‘no’ vote was saying.
But building a ‘two-speed Europe’ demands boldness and authority, because it requires the EU to evolve institutionally and conceptually. The Parliament could easily adapt to a two-circle Europe by sitting sometimes as a reduced parliament for the Eurozone countries, and other times as a 28-Member parliament, with the possibility of new countries joining this revamped structure. The first circle would be sovereign, with the second limited to single market trade.
The Commission and Council would be re-organised in the same way.
In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, everyone feels the need to avoid unfixable problems. Therefore a definitive exit should not be negotiated; instead a Plan B should be created as a solution, one that above all can rekindle hope for populations that are waiting for positive and concrete signs.