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European Union Institutions Essay

1577 words - 7 pages

‘In theory, the European Commission represents the EU interest, the European Parliament acts as the voice of the people of the EU, and the Council represents the interests of national governments. The reality is quite different.’

The elementary organizing principles of the European Union have been the representation of different interests and the balance of power between the EU institutions and those particular interests. Emphasized in Monnet’s vision, one of the key tasks of the European project was ‘…to ensure that in their limited field these new institutions were both thoroughly democratic and accountable’. Yet, it is often questionable as to whether this task has been ...view middle of the document...

Arndt Wonka has cast considerable doubt on this process by demonstrating the influence of the appointment procedure, and the power it places in national governments’ and ruling parties’ hands, on Commissioners’ policy preferences. Indeed, it is difficult to see in practical terms how the Commission can be expected to be different from the Council of Ministers: members of both institutions are chosen ultimately by the leaders of their national governments. Moreover, if one government reject the others nominee, it is this government’s right to nominate another candidate. (Yet, in many cases, this rejection will most likely be avoided by other member state – so as to not become the target of such rejection too).

Furthermore, a rational-actor view of the Commission would tend to be suspicious of claims that the Commissioner’s collegial atmosphere allows the institution to assume a life and agenda of its own (and by so represent the interest of the EU), at odds with national governments; this is a particularly valid critique in light of the expansion of the Union, and the move towards a more deliberative and Parliamentarian atmosphere within the Commission. The expansion also opens up the possibility of self-interested national bargaining: it would be folly for a Commissioner from a landlocked country to support proposals on fishing without using their leverage to push for their national agenda at the same time; especially when we consider Wonka’s case for “conceptualizing Commissioners as political rather than technocratic actors.” It is thus doubtful whether the Commission can claim to represent the EU interests by virtue of its “independence” from national self-interest.

Empirically, it is also difficult to find evidence of the Commission’s legitimacy as a true representative of the EU interest. The decline in “popular acceptance of EU governance” can be attributed to recent events vividly traced by Mehde and most viscerally captured by the resignation of the Santer Commission. Further, Tsakatika’s prediction that “enlargement…[would] bring about a further drop in legitimacy” has been vindicated by the strength of Euroskepticism in Poland and the Czech Republic. The rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in 2005 also provided a clear reminder of public suspicion of the legitimacy of the integration project and its institutions. This wears particularly badly on the Commission, which is noted by Chalmers to be susceptible to perception as “a single body with the single idea of promoting European integration.”

A further critique concerns the role of the European Parliament. It is predominantly held that the Parliament represents the voice of the European People. This representation is (questionably) achieved when EU citizens directly elect the Members of the European Parliament (MEP), to stand (as members of national political parties) in seven Europe-wide political groups. Between them, they ought to represent all views on European...

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