Sunday

25th Jun 2017

EU agencies 'add value' but there is no 'master plan'

  • The European Chemicals Agency, based in Finland, one of many EU agencies. (Photo: European Chemicals Agency)

The European Union has some 44 agencies entities, but there is no “master plan” of what policy area gets an agency and when or if or how they can be abolished, said the future chairman of the EU Agencies Network this week.

“There was never a master plan to say: okay this is our policy field, we think there and there we could need an agency and there it's better to do it in Brussels or the member states,” Bernhard Url told EUobserver.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Url, who heads the European Food Safety Authority, will take the helm of the network of EU agencies on 1 March 2017.

The group organised an event in Brussels this week, evaluating their work, as well as showcasing the diversity of established agencies.

Executive director of the network's current chair, Antonio Campinos, of the European Union Intellectual Property Office, said on Tuesday (6 December) that while EU agencies are “the familiar face of the EU for many Europeans”, there are agencies which are “largely unknown even at EU institutional level”.

There are agencies dealing with a wide variety of policy areas: there is an agency that deals with vocational training, one that monitors drugs and drug addiction, and one that aims to improve the living and working conditions of Europeans.

Yet there is some consistency missing.

While there are agencies dealing with policies on railway transport, maritime safety, and aviation safety, there is no agency for road transport.

“I think if you look at the history of how agencies were set up: most of the time there was an issue, a crisis, a shortcoming that policymakers in the Council and Parliament said: 'well, maybe this could be better dealt with by an agency',” said Url.

Campinos said the agencies were “delivering essential services on the ground for a relatively small proportion of the overall EU budget - less than 0.8 percent, to be exact”.

“Too often people do underestimate the benefits and the value of EU agencies”, said centre-left MEP Derek Vaughan from the UK.

Vaughan checked the performance of the agencies and suggested that the EU parliament signed off on their budgets.

“I was pleased to see they were getting better, they were getting more efficient, they were improving their services they provided,” said Vaughan.

Politics beats practicality

However, he also found that “there is a potential to say: maybe we could have less agencies in the future”.

Url noted that merging agencies “should not be a taboo topic.”

“The first question is: is the task that this agency has been doing still needed? If the task is needed, it has to be decided in which form,” he added.

“But it's a highly political decision, as we have seen. They tried to merge agencies, and then the member states come in. It's difficult.”

If agencies were to merge, national governments meeting in the council also need to agree.

However, they are unable to look at the agencies without taking into account the physical location of agencies spread across the member states.

“Member states will say: 'yes, it's a really good idea, we should look at the number of agencies, maybe we could merge a few',” said Vaughan. “But once you point at the agency in their country, then they change their mind. They always change their mind.”

Jan Ridzon, a Slovak member of the budget committee of the Council, said Vaughan was right.

“It is also about protecting certain national interests of several member states,” he said.

Another feature of some agencies is that once established, they quickly pick up tasks.

Alberto Pototschnig, director of the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), told EUobserver that just months after his agency was established, it received an additional assignment: to ensure there was no manipulative trading on energy markets.

“The energy sector now is more dynamic than it has ever been,” Pototschnig told EUobserver. “There were tens of years when not much happened in terms of technology. Now we are at a time of great changes.”

Those changes and the EU's ambition to integrate energy markets will make it that an agency not hastily abolished.

“If the project of integrating markets in Europe continues … I think there will always be a role for some form of European regulatory framework,” said Pototschnig.

“It is very difficult for this European regulatory framework to be governed by 28, 27 or 30 national regulatory authorities agreeing on everything on a continuous basis.”

Investigation

Why doesn't the EU have a road transport agency?

There are EU agencies covering maritime transport, aviation, and railways, but road transport never got its own. Some MEPs are now advocating one, to the chagrin of many member states.

New EU border agency to 'stress test' member states

Frontex, the EU border agency, is set to morph in a much more powerful European border and coast guard agency. EU states are set to come under its scrutiny before the end of the year.

The EU agency that has too much money

The office that sells EU trademarks has had a budget surplus for a decade. But new rules that allow that money to be spent for the benefit of all EU citizens are vague.

EUobserved

Scramble for UK agencies paves way for Trumpian claims

The Spanish health minister this week bragged that Barcelona was “the best city”, had “the best building”, and “the best infrastructure” to host the EU's medicines agency post-Brexit.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement