Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

EU needs fewer presidents and a new budget 'tsar', say Finns

  • Alexander Stubb "We need strong rules, strong enforcement of rules and a culture of rules" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU needs fewer presidents and a new budget 'tsar' if it is to emerge from its current economic and political crisis, Finnish Europe minister Alexander Stubb has said.

Addressing students at the European College of Bruges, his Alma Mater, Stubb offered up a change in the EU's power structure as a way of breaking the haze of incoherence and multi-layered decision-making that has clogged up the bloc's response to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.

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"My solution would be to combine the functions of the Presidents of the Commission, the European Council and the Euro Area Summits into one high post. You can just select the same person to all three posts."

At the moment Jose Manuel Barroso runs the commission, while Herman Van Rompuy chairs the regular summits of EU leaders and has recently had his role extended to chair eurozone summits.

But the set-up is clumsy. Barroso and Van Rompuy struggle with institutional rivalry while formalising the eurozone meetings with a president risks adding another layer of bureaucracy to the system.

A self-confessed "nerd" of EU institutional minutiae, Stubb goes into the detail of a future such post. "The president would in effect be commission based, but would need a strong administration bringing together the preparation of the European Council, the Eurogroup and the leadership of the Commission."

He admits the exercise, which would ultimately require a change in the EU treaty to get the details right, would only be worthwhile "if it brings more order and more harmony".

He indicated that his reasons for proposing the idea stem from annoyance at the ad hoc and backroom state of decision-making - typified by the emergence of the so-called Frankfurt Group of France, Germany the European Central Bank and others - as the eurozone grapples with the debt crisis.

"I would rather have this leadership in the hands of a joint - perhaps elected - trustee, than self-anointed member states".

Finns 'shocked' by Greek behaviour

Stubb also gave some insight into Finnish views on the Greek situation, with Finland, along with the Netherlands and Germany, seen as an elite"core" of the 17-member eurozone, rule-abiding and with triple A credit rating.

"I cannot downplay the shock that the Greek debt-crisis has caused with my Finnish electorate that believes in fair play and following the rules. People feel cheated because European rules were not followed and national authorities even gave false information" he said, with Greece allowed into the euro although it actually did not fulfil the criteria.

"The EU rarely provokes an emotional reaction among Finns - this time is different. For us this is not really about money, but principles."

He indicated that Finland also favours the controversial Dutch proposal to create a budget 'tsar' "to keep member states on the straight and narrow path."

"I understand the Dutch reasoning on a gradual loss of national control if things get out of hand."

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