Question Mark - CC / Flickr
Question Mark - CC / Flickr

I’m rather conscious that I have a tendency to rant and complain on this blog. So after some interesting questions posed by the audience at an event organised by le Cercle québécois des affaires internationales where I was the speaker earlier today, here are a few strange and radical ideas to improve the EU.

  1. Employ an extra 10000 Commission officials. Essentially if you compare the EU institutions with ministries of national governments the numbers of people employed are miniscule. The Commission has about 24000 staff, the UK’s DWP more than 95000. So few staff (and among them a whole bunch of translators and interpreters) means the European Commission is too reliant on lobbyists and consultants. More staff would help.
  2. Shut down Strasbourg. The Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament makes the institution inefficient and wasteful. Close the Strasbourg building, and save €200 million a year. It will help pay for the extra Commission staff.
  3. Mix up the DGs of the Commission. No-one has had a proper and fundamental look at how the Directorates General of the Commission are organised for years and years – could some be merged or abolished? Work out what areas need more staff, and the areas that need less. Make sure French dominance of agriculture is well and truly broken. While doing this streamline the systems of inter-service consultation and paper trails to directors.
  4. Introduce an EU tax. This should be constitutionally limited – i.e. maximum percentage of GDP set. It should have direct taxation and indirect taxation elements, with the emphasis on taxation of a cross border nature – taxation on airline fuel for example. Parties then run in EP elections on the basis of whether they want to increase or decrease the budget of the EU. This system would put the financial power together with the legislative power, with a constitutional limit to prevent over-spend. This would be coupled with complete budget transparency – essentially what the guys at farmsubsidy.org do, but for every policy area.
  5. European Parliament to choose the Commission President. I’ve been hammering on about this one already. Make the head of a party’s list their candidate to be Commission President. That way a party might actually be able to deliver on its promises during a 5 year parliamentary term.
  6. Legislative initiative for the European Parliament. Currently only the European Commission can propose legislation in Pillar I matters. Why not open this up to allow the EP (and the Council?) to propose legislation? Similar to private member’s bills in national parliaments the Commission drafts could still maintain precedence in the legislative timetable.
  7. Better scrutiny by national parliaments. If all Member States used the Finnish system – where the EU committee of the Parliament is sitting at the same time as Ministers are meeting in the Council – then the disconnect between EU politics and national politics could be partially eliminated. This of course requires national politicians to be diligent too… Hmmm.
  8. 10% Civil Servant Exchanges. National civil servants do not understand the EU, and EU fonctionnaires do not understand national administrations. So a 10% exchange system should be introduced, where civil servants spend 10% of their time (or 1 year in 10) elsewhere – on secondment to Brussels from a national capital or vice versa.
  9. Reshuffling and censure of the European Commission. Why do Commissioners so seldom get shifted from one portfolio to another? Perhaps a motion to move could be introduced in the European Parliament, a signal to the Commission President that an individual – while possibly OK in their own right – is not doing adequately well with their particular portfolio. Power to the EP to censure individual Commissioners (with perhaps a 3/5 majority in the EP) would also help.
  10. Rename things. Why do we have the Council of the EU, the European Council (well, and the Council of Europe – not part of the EU)? Why are 2 different things called RELEX? We need some better terminology for what’s going on.
  11. Get the web strategy right. Maybe more minor than the other points, but each and every DG of the European Commission needs a simple and straightforward website so people can actually find out what’s going on. The information is online (generally) only it’s impossible to find.

14 Comments

  1. Pingback: Ausnahmen bestätigen die Regel. » Blog Archive » Radikale Ideen zur Verbesserung der EU

  2. You’re welcome to borrow any of the ideas! 🙂

  3. Elina Kiiski

    Very good Jon!

    I would still add somethng about the public sphere of the EU, (even if it is a bit vague)since the EU can make what ever policies it wants, but if it is not communivated, it all stayes the same. And with this communication I really don´t mean the Commission representations having open door days for public, but actually more of quality journalism on the EU wide topics, about the policy issues on the Parliament´s agenda, on the personal follow up of the EU-leaders etc. During the elections there has been a Euroelecetion blog on the biggest newspaper site held by known political journalists. Very good blog, but this is actually first time when I see listed the major policy issues that the parliament is going to decide in teh forthcoming election perioid. That was something really concrete and I would like to see more of this done by the national medias.

    If you don´t mind, I´ll borrow your list when I do my EU stuff here in Finland 😉

  4. James Burnside

    On the tax question, yes VAT can be considered an EU tax, but as a contribution to the EU budget it amounts to less than one-fifth. The method of calculating each state’s conribution to the VAT resource is also pretty impenetrable, so citizens have no real sense that the VAT they pay on their purchases is contributing to the EU budget.

    For a new “EU tax” to be accepted by citizens, there should be a corresponding visible reduction in national taxes, i.e. those which go to make up the GNI resource. Which member states are going to go for that easily? An environmental tax could be promising territory, but if it is designed to curtail polluting activities, the take from it ought to reduce over time, raising the question of what replaces it then (just as the development of free trade under successive GATT/WTO rounds reduced take from the Community’s traditional own resources, leading to the introduction of the GNI resource).

  5. @Euronym – I’m very well aware of that as an EU geek, but the problem is that it’s rather opaque. Own initiative for the EP would surely clear things up a bit? Patio heaters and all…

  6. Like Julien, I’ll pick on number 6 – while the Commission has the sole right to propose legislation, it’ll often (sometimes?) do so at the instigation of the EP or Council of Ministers. I accept that this is a slightly self-selecting way of going about things (for instance the much-UKIPed proposed ban on patio heaters was something proposed by the EP that the European Commission isn’t going to act on), but it isn’t accurate to characterise the Commission as acting as a free electron proposing things – it will often respond to ideas and suggestions from the other institutions. I posted on this issue a while ago: http://euonym.wordpress.com/2009/03/10/i-want-to-break-free/

  7. @Eurocentric – yes, 10000 is a bit arbitrary. But we need more for sure, and for the reasons you state.

    @Trooper – yes, there is VAT. But the problem is it’s fixed – no-one debates or discusses it, it’s not a subject for the EP elections. And EU funds should be.

    @Igor – 12, I disagree. Directives are vital to get MS to change their behaviour, and, if policed correctly, are a good way to apply EU law to respect national legal systems. If you believe in subsidiarity you should want to maintain directives.

  8. I like your points, let me add to the wish list:
    12) Scrap (new) directives altogether, just bring in regulations
    13) Shrink the number of commissioners
    14) If new Eu agencies are really needed, make them have real powers and do real things
    15) Scrap unanimity, including treaty change (letting the dissenters leave if they prefer)

  9. “Employ an extra 10000 Commission officials.”

    I’m not sure about 10,000, but more officials would help make the Commission more independent from the lobbies and interest groups (though it may be because the Green interest groups are good at presenting technical and scientific evidence that they’ve been good at advancing their cause through the EU structures).

    Your points on reforming the DGs and further democratization would wean the Commission off the lobbies a bit more too, though reforming the DGs would be very sensitive stuff…

    I’d also break the link between the member states and the “national” Commissioners – the Commission President gets to pick the best national (they can get) for the job, and the EP confirms them. (Only if the Commission President is elected by the EP/directly, though).

  10. National parliaments are lazy. Member States could stop a whole load of stuff from Brussels if they wanted to, but Ministers are not held to account adequately by their national parliaments. If national parliaments were diligent in giving ministers binding instructions it would be useful…

  11. “Employ an extra 10000 Commission officials. ”

    Not that old chestnut about the EU employing a mere handful of people? The civil service in each respective country work for the EU, because they implement rules set by the EU. It’s similar in the parliaments and assemblies of those nations, which also spend most of their time implementing new laws at the EU’s command.

    “Introduce an EU tax”

    We’ve got one, it’s called VAT.

    “Better scrutiny by national parliaments.”

    What for? What can national parliaments actually do to change the EU-imposed rules?

  12. I like all 11 of them 🙂

    There would be an excellent opportunity for point 3 when the Lisbon Treaty forces the Commission to become smaller (but will this really happen? wasn’t the plan to leave everything as it is for the sake of an Irish yes?)

  13. You should have added what are the most realistic ideas, since all 11 taken together would constitute a major reform of the European Union (which is necessary – but seeing the Constitutional and Reform Treaty quarrels not very likely).

    I could say something about all of them (I mostly agree), but I’d just like to comment on 6: Yes, the EP should have the right to initiate legislation, but only if the Council does not get this right!

    The latter already has too much power, especially through the European Council composition (which de facto can easily initiate legislation), and through the member states’ influence in the comitology.

    Getting even more rights would move much more power to the member states and it would also leave more room for the moods of each individual half-year presidency to push for certain legislative projects that would then pile up and keep the institutions busy for years.

    So “Yes” for more rights for the parliament, but in no case more rights for the member states regarding the legislative process in the Union!

  14. Pingback: links for 2009-05-23 « Spartakan

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