Institutional Reforms for Credibility and Efficiency

In past decades, substantial amount of pressure started to mount on the European political establishment to implement essential institutional reforms. Over a decade lapsed since the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the last attempt to adjust the mechanisms of the European institutions to increase its credibility, responsiveness and efficiency in the eyes of the European citizens. Since then a number of crises swept through our continent, leaving as much devastation behind as food for thought about the accuracy of the chosen direction. Response by the EU to the financial crisis, migration, Brexit, challenges posed by climate change and the COVID-19 outbreak have left a lot to be desired.

Once again, amidst an emergency posed by the global pandemic and by the rise of populist political forces taking an advantage and promising a simple and quick fix to all of Europe’s problems, the EU has to deal in urgency with the overdue issue of institutional reform. Guiding principles in this process should be:

Eliminating the perception of costly over-bureaucratization of institutions, as well as democratic deficit to regain credibility;

Dissolving deadlock in European institutions to enhance efficiency in legislating, decision-making and executing powers;

Strengthening European identity by defending common values and forging a common European narrative.

When it comes to ranking highly annoying and senselessly profligate practices of the EU, the „wandering circus” of the European Parliament relocating every month between Strasbourg and Brussels scores relatively high. Although the historical reason for this arrangement in the immediate aftermath of WW2 is understood, it is high time for France to let go of this symbolic, but rather costly exercise.

Similarly, the historic reasons for the need of careful balancing in assigning portfolios of the Commission are appreciated, but the time has come to reform the composition of the EU’s executive and place efficiency ahead of everything else. Instead of every Member State being granted a seat in the College, sometimes with arbitrary or symbolic scope, backed by an army of over 32.000 bureaucrats, a mission-focused Commission with about half the size should take over. In order to ensure balance between Member States rotation among Commissioners should be introduced. Both of the above measures would lead to reducing bureaucracy, costs and increasing efficiency of our institutions.

The EU has also damaged its already battered reputation for having a democratic deficit when the „Spitzenkandidat” system for selecting the president of the Commission was suddenly ditched just to give way to the best European traditions of behind the door deals to elect Merkel’s favourite Ursula von der Leyen. If ever the EU wants to regain credibility, it should opt for a transparent and more democratic way of selecting the candidate for the most prestigious position in the EU.

If the EU wishes to become a geopolitical player in a globalized but multipolar world, as envisaged by the current leaders of the EU, it will have to amend its decision-making and voting procedures in the Council. Unanimity in areas such as common foreign and security policy do not help the EU in becoming a unified strategic player politically, while unanimity in taxation, financial and social security matters hinder the economic integration of the EU, enhancing its global competitiveness. The elimination of the veto in certain areas should thus be contemplated. Equally, unity among the Member States can only be preserved if fundamental values of the community, adherence to democracy and rule of law are respected by all.

Values of democracy and freedom are the No. 1 trademarks of Europe, the neglect for which should have serious consequences: sanctions and ultimately a suspension of membership. Some of the above require the amendment of the fundamental treaties of the EU, which due to the ratification process might seem mission impossible in ordinary times. However, extraordinary times require bold measures especially in times when the future of European cooperation is at stake. This is why institutional reform is worth the effort.


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