Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Schaeuble said to want to split EU commission powers

  • Wolfgang Schaeuble (r) with French finance minister Michel Sapin (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble would like the competition and single market departments removed from the European Commission, according to a report in Germany's leading centre-right daily.

The FAZ newspaper reports that Schaeuble believes the commission can no longer combine its role as 'guardian' of the EU treaties - including enforcing anti-trust and internal market rules - with its increasingly political role as a nascent EU government.

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These thoughts have crystallized amid the long-running dispute between Greece and its creditors - of which the European Commission represents one part.

Schaeuble became increasingly irritated with the commission's part in the back-and-forth between Athens and Brussels. The EU executive is supposed to have a technical role checking whether Greece is implementing promised reforms.

However commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has been much more active, frequently phoning and meeting Greek leader Alexis Tsipras. In Schaeuble's view this strengthened Tsipras' calls for a deal at the highest political level and involving a debt cut.

The simmering disapproval in Berlin about how the commission was handling the negotiations with Greece spilt over when Schaeuble publicly -albeit indirectly - rebuked Juncker's chief of staff Martin Selmayr for sending a jubilant tweet about reform proposals sent by Athens - proposals later deemed unacceptable by the creditors.

According to FAZ, Schaeuble is not against the commission having a more political role in EU governance but the trade-off needs to be setting up separate technical bodies that deal with competition and internal market issues.

The Netherlands is expected to make the issue one of its focal points during its EU presidency in the first half of next year.

Schaeuble is also hoping for support from London which is itself looking to reform the EU ahead of a planned referendum on EU membership which could take place as early as June 2016.

The proposals are set to be controversial in Brussels.

The European Commission is keen on its role as treaty enforcer and the competition and internal market departments are arguably the most important and far-reaching of all the commission's departments.

Eurozone architecture

Aired at an EU finance ministers' meeting in Brussels earlier this month, Schaeuble's ideas come amid a general feeling among several EU capitals that the eurozone's architecture must be improved.

Italian finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan told the FT earlier this week that leaders "must clearly admit that the existing monetary union is an incomplete mechanism" while French president Francois Hollande called for a vanguard of states to lead a strengthened eurozone.

Meanwhile, commission president Juncker has repeatedly said his commission is a 'political' one, arguing that citizens can relate to an institution that is political more than one they perceive to be only technocratic.

But so far the proposals have tended to remain vague and aspirational as the next steps in eurozone integration such as a eurozone budget, finance minister, or fully-fledged political union, are ideas that require giving more powers up to the EU level.

There is also limits to what can be done without a treaty change - a long and difficult process that can be vetoed by single states.

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