Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

EUobserved

EU reforms – what about the rest of the players?

It seems most can agree on one thing: Europe is in need of reform. What reform is not entirely clear yet.

But the main thing is to show that the EU is reacting to the May vote which ushered in a swathe of anti-establishment MEPs on the back of yet another low turnout.

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For the moment, Jean-Claude Juncker, the embattled would-be commission president, has unwittingly become the focal point of a loud debate not only about what reform will take place but whether the EU has any appetite for change.

Britain, as loudest, has been arguing that appointing him would, from the get-go, indicate that the EU will simply carry on as usual.

So the debate has become larger than Juncker himself. Leaving aside the peculiar dynamics of the Spitzenkandidat process, the Luxembourg politician hardly represents a new departure for EU politics.

In that sense he doesn't embody the most superficial requirement of an EU intending to reform - a fresh(er) face.

But the "reform" debate thus far has fixated entirely on Juncker and the European Commission. As if they are the only players in the discussion.

The other players needed to bring about change over the next five years are the member states and the European Parliament.

During the past five years, as the European Commission gained substantial new powers to poke around in member states national budgets, there was increasing discussion about the EU's democratic deficit.

The topic made it onto EU leaders' agenda a couple of times but there it remained, largely unaddressed. Yet it is key to the future survival of the EU.

With Brussels now pronouncing on issues such as social welfare spending, the need to connect the EU with national politics has become acute.

Other issues also illustrate the lack of reform impetus.

The next multi-annual EU budget, for example, keeps its heavy focus on farm policy at the expense of a budget line to fund to transport, energy and telecoms project.

Talk on loosening the stability pact to allow for longer periods to cut deficits, or allowing more leeway for major public investment programmes has remained just that - talk - for several years.

Meanwhile it is more than time to put an end to the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament, which represents an indefensible waste of money.

As for the European Parliament - if the appointment (or not) of Juncker has taken on great symbolic value - the EU assembly could also make major gestures of its own.

Not stitching up the EP's presidency between the two biggest groups would be a start. It's hardly a fresh message to see, according to the German press, that Martin Schulz may become EP president again, supported by the EPP, so he does not emerge empty-handed from the spitzenkandidat process.

Having the vote by secret ballot is no way to do things either. The vote should be open and citizens should see exactly how their MEPs voted - both for the EP and the commission president.

Sometimes it's easier to throw stones - either publicly or privately - at a sitting (Grand Duchy) target than actually bring about change.

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Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

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