26th Aug 2019

European Commission made stronger by enlargement

  • Ms Day: more power to the commission with so many countries and so many disputes...? (Photo:

The European Commission has been strengthened by enlargement as the 27 member states look to it to bring order into the EU house, the body's top official has said.

Secretary general Catherine Day said that as member states find it "increasingly difficult" to find agreement amongst themselves, the commission "is paid 24/7 to be scanning European horizons trying to find out where are the elements of consensus."

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Speaking at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre on Tuesday (27 February), the Irish official said "I do think the commission is stronger in a union of 27" because the relationship between member states is based on a "bargain of trust" which they look to the commission to uphold.

"It's endlessly fascinating that none of them like it when it is applied to them but still they all want us to be very strong in terms of making others keep to their side of the bargain."

Enlargement, which she deemed an "unqualified success" is also going to have an effect on how the commission legislates with the greater diversity in the countries themselves reflected in the various types of legislation in different areas that the commission will propose in the future.

Having worked in the commission for almost 30 years, Ms Day said that the much-flaunted "better regulation" agenda is "changing the culture" in the institution making it better at looking at the overall impact of legislation.

In a side-swipe to MEPs and member states, who sometimes substantially alter draft laws as they go through the legislative pipelines, she said they should take impact assessments more seriously "first in terms of when they study commission proposals but also when they make big amendments to them."

Member states also got a ticking off for being quick to criticise the commission for producing red tape but rather more slow when it comes to their own back yards.

"I think it is very significant that the commission has proposed that we should together have a target of cutting administrative burden by 25% [and that member states] are finding it very hard to agree to wording that would be equally ambitious."

Ms Day also acknowledged the effect of hugely controversial pieces of legislation – such as the so-called Bolkestein Directive on the liberalising of services, adopted only after a huge political furore and having been considerably watered down – in making the commission look before it takes any legislative leaps by consulting member states first on the parameters of new laws.

Denying this is a form of "self-censorship" she said it would be "unthinkable nowadays for the launch new initiatives without seeking views."

Brussels recently toned down plans for energy liberalisation and postponed a proposal on overhauling levies on EU artists, mainly after consultation with Germany and France.

Meanwhile, Ms Day also poured cold water on the notion that the commission is no longer doing much legislation, an idea that began to take force after Brussels repeatedly said it was turning down its law-making machine and after MEPs started to wonder out aloud what exactly they would be doing in the coming years.

She said that the commission made 474 legislative proposals last year, not much less than the around 490 of previous years, adding that the commission is now legislating in a different way – producing less harmonising laws – and in different areas – such as justice and home affairs.

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