Former NW England MEP Chris Davies writes.
The European Commission is both the EU’s executive (government) and its civil service. It has the job of coming up with the ideas and the legislation to put into practice the principles agreed in the EU Treaties and the wishes of the 28 EU governments. It also has the job of trying to enforce the agreed rules and ensure that there is a level playing field.
The Commission does not have a police force at its disposal, nor an army. To enforce the rules it calls in the ‘bureaucrats’ to write letters to governments, and when that fails it brings in the lawyers. The EU is not so much an independent body, more a set of legal agreements between independent countries. Enforcing the rules is often a slow business done mostly by persuasion because the Courts are even slower!
There are 28 Commissioners, one for each EU country, and they serve for a period of 5 years. These are the real ‘Brussels Bureaucrats, but most of them are former elected ministers with an impressive track record in their own countries. They are nominated by the governments of their respective countries, but have to undergo a three-hour interview by MEPs and be endorsed by the European Parliament. MEPs like to find a reason for rejecting at least one candidate just to keep the governments on their toes.
By the way, next time you hear UKIP complain about ‘unelected officials’ in Europe why not ask who elects the government of the USA? We know that the President is elected but all the other U.S. ministers are appointed, very like European Commissioners.
The current Commission likes to think of itself as a reforming one that is tackling the big issues and cutting down on the small ones. It is also big on communication. In the first year of its 5-year term the various Commissioners answered questions from the world’s media in Brussels on 138 occasions; they addressed the European Parliament 58 times and answered 14,467 parliamentary questions from MEPs; they also took part in 45 public meetings/town hall debates.
The big boast of the present Commission is that it is working to curb over-regulation. It says that during the period 2010-14 an average of 130 items of new legislation were proposed annually, whereas last year the number was down to 23. It also points to the fact that 80 proposals already in the legislative pipeline were withdrawn.
This is not a European bureaucracy that ploughs on regardless of public opinion. It’s a political body of people with strong democratic traditions, and they are listening and responding to the mood across Europe.
Liberal Democrats North West Notes & News 3 November 2015.
News from the North West Lib Dems, 19 January 2016.
The European Commission has ordered the Belgian government to collect €700 million of taxes from 35 multinational companies trading in that country.
The EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, says that the Belgian government has been doing illegal ‘sweetheart’ deals to attract business from large companies. But these deals are unfair to small companies that don’t get the same benefits, are unfair to other European countries, and break EU state aid rules.
So here we have the European Commission, the so-called ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ so loathed by the Europhobes, playing the role of umpire, doing the job of enforcing the rules intended to guarantee fair play, and protecting British interests from unfair competition.
What would we do without them? If the UK pulls out of the EU there will be no rules to say that competition must be fair.
Incidentally, Margrethe Vestager (47), who is a bit of a star in the Commission, is a former parliamentary group leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party, Radikale Venstre, which is very much a sister party to the British Lib Dems. She was deputy prime minister of Denmark before being nominated as Denmark’s commissioner.
Her husband is a maths teacher. They have three daughters. And she served as an inspiration for the main character in the Danish TV series ‘Borgen’ who has to juggle family life with a thoroughly honourable but intensely time-consuming life in politics. (Highly recommended and utterly absorbing if you haven’t seen it).
Maybe the ‘faceless’ European Commissioners aren’t so bad after all!