ANALYSE - The authority of the European Commission is waning. Why?
The European Commission, a crucial EU institution, is beset with difficulties. It is popular with neither governments nor voters. Twenty years ago, many people looked to the Commission to set the EU’s agenda and take the lead in managing crises. But few people expect the Commission to play that role today.
Ever since the time when Jacques Delors ran the Commission (1985 to 1995), its authority vis-à-vis EU governments has been waning. The member-states – and especially the big ones – have sought to constrain an institution that they consider over-mighty.
The Lisbon treaty, in force since 2009, created two important institutional innovations: the permanent president of the European Council, a post now occupied by Herman Van Rompuy; and the European External Action Service (EEAS), a body now led by Catherine Ashton. Both of these carry out some tasks that the Commission used to do and have contributed to its sense of insecurity.
Focus on technical role
Paradoxically, the euro crisis has led to the Commission gaining unprecedented formal powers – on the surveillance of national economic policies – but further eroded its standing and credibility. National governments have provided the money for helping countries in trouble, so they set the terms for bail-outs. The Commission has had to leave the high politics to the European Council, and often to a few key governments, while focusing on its subordinate though important technical role.