Those who regularly frequent the corridors of Brussels and/or Strasbourg will have been a bit surprised by the European Parliament plenary session of Wednesday, 28 September.

In an impassioned speech on the State of the Union, Jose Manuel Barroso drew the support of a very large majority of the Chamber, be they Conservatives, Social Democrats or Liberals. Martin Schulz applauded the "fighting spirit" of the President of the Commission. "For the first time, we had the impression that he.d finally donned the costume appropriate to his office," stressed Alain Lamassoure. But it was a close shave! For several weeks, a wind of revolt had been stirring in the benches against President Barroso, being considered "not the man for the job" and threatened with a motion of no-confidence by certain Liberal MEPs. Strong proposals were presented by the President, such as the creation a financial transactions tax, "Stability Bonds", and ongoing work to increase the firepower of the EFSF and an appeal to review the unanimity rule it is governed by.
The Parliament and the Commission are joining forces to condemn .The capital cities. diplomacy., saying that "certain forms of intergovernmentalism could lead to [...] fragmentation". This method has certainly revealed its limitations; France and Germany infringed the Stability and Growth Pact in 2003 and rejected sanctions, so they carry a share of the blame for the failure of rigorous budgetary surveillance. More recently, capital cities have been criticised for their slow progress and .bare-minimum. strategies, and the supremacy of the Franco-German duo is not always appreciated. But, objectively, does it not make sense for national governments to be involved at the European level? Is M. Barroso more legitimate than Mrs Merkel, whose country is the first to be begged for solidarity, to discuss the measures to be taken to consolidate the euro area? Are people really willing to be ruled by Brussels? National parliaments are baring their teeth, as evidenced by the tensions that preceded the vote of the Bundestag on 29 September.
Dismissing the fact that the Merkel-Sarkozy couple.s drives the economic governance choices of the euro area and that they would like M. Van Rompuy to become "Mr Euro", M. Barroso instead declared that "the Commission is the economic government of the Union". But are we not forgetting the fact that, in the treaties, the Commission does not have a true mandate to build a macroeconomic policy. Numerous MEPs are pointing the complex collective decision-making structure of the Commission, which is often described as a "smokestacked" organisation. All these elements will thwart this ambition. But more importantly, the EU Executive is more or less a two-headed structure; the national budgetary measures require cooperation between national governments while the EU budget is not yet build for cyclical policies. We agree with the need to move forward an economic government of a federal type for the eurozone. To succeed and to restore confidence, "we need [...] political leadership which supposes an understanding between the Commission and the Council. Quarrels over prerogatives are leaving a bitter taste in citizens. mouths and are doing nothing in the way of addressing the fundamental issues of legitimacy. Trichet calls for "team spirit", while we speak of a Sacred Union! Let.s not forget that there.s a fire raging. Guy Verhofstadt has quite rightly argued for a "big bang" approach to economic, fiscal and social convergence. We need to move step by step towards this supranational European executive for the eurozone. Which is what makes Trichet-Barnier.s proposal of a European Ministry of Economy so interesting . why not consider a structure headed by a political figure, bringing together the functions of the DG for Economic and Financial Affairs and the Eurozone, and accountable to the European Parliament and national parliaments? But first, let.s make sure we settle the problematic issue of unanimous decision-making in the EFSF as soon as possible. By calling for a voting structure comparable to that of the IMF, where decisions are made not unanimously but with 85% of the vote, Barroso is opening an avenue worth exploring. Those who pay are still those who decide, but the veto of a member must not block the system. One last thing. Such a structure could, at last, tackle head on the "forgotten" question of growth . an issue as important as the austerity one- , a point that was underlined by the rejection by the Socialist and Green MEPs of the "Six Pack" directives.

Carole Ulmer,
Confrontations Europe

 

Extract of Interface n°70

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