TCS Daily

A Brighter Commission

By Waldemar Ingdahl - August 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Since the forming of the European Union, the Berlin-Paris axis has been a very powerful force for driving the organization in the direction of increased governmental power. This certainly did not change in 1995 when Sweden, Austria and Finland joined the bloc; rather Berlin-Paris got continued support.

But since May 1 the EU has changed, more considerably than previously envisioned by the members of "Old Europe". A good sign of this is the case is the new European Commission appointed by incoming President José Manuel Durão Barroso.

One of the main problems in the EU's structure is its vague division of power. The president of the Commission is chosen by the governments of the member states, without any popular election. The national governments also get to chose who they what as commissioners, but not what areas of responsibility they will be given. Thus the political nature of the Commission is very much dependent on the nature of the person at the helm. So we Europeans just have to cross our fingers and hope that a president with political integrity, competence and the ability to think independently in respect of the national governments (as noted in my previous article "Vox Europa", this situation is very problematic especially now in the 21st century).

Barroso was put under pressure from the Berlin-Paris axis from the start. The French and Germans wanted to create a new office in the Commission. This "super commissioner" would supposedly be in charge of planning the European economy and promoting "industrial champions" (presumably French and German corporations).

Luckily Barroso did not give in; quite the contrary actually. Surprisingly, the commissioners from the smaller EU members have been given positions of importance in the new Commission. The commissioners are not supposed to represent their countries, but of course they do represent the thinking of the governments that appointed them.

A Danish liberal, Mariann Fisher Boel, is the new commissioner for agriculture, the EU's greatest expenditure area. Her appointment (and the fact that a French person was not chosen) will be of great importance to cutting the CAP.

Charlie McCreevy, former finance minister of Ireland, is the new commissioner for the internal market, which bodes well since the Irish government has led the way with its taxation policies. Hopefully McCreevy will put an end to the harmful plans for fiscal harmonization in the union. Especially since the commissioner for taxation and customs union, Ingrida Udre, is from Latvia, a country with a flat tax of 25 per cent and a corporate tax of 15 percent.

Dutch liberal Neelie Smit Kroes will handle competition, and will hopefully avoid the arbitrary interventions of her predecessor as in the Microsoft case this spring.

Also comforting is that Barroso appointed the commissioners of the dominating "Old Europe" countries to prestigious-sounding but vaguer posts of vice presidents, without control of the EU's financial policies or the areas in which the bloc spends the most. Germany and France seem like the big losers in the appointments.

Particularly good from a free market perspective is that Sweden's Margot Wallström was not re-appointed environment commissioner (she is now in charge of EU public relations). Wallström's time as commissioner was characterized by her giving a very big influence to the environmentalist organizations in Brussels and she was instrumental in drafting the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals legislation (REACH, described more in details in this article). While the final version of that much-criticized directive is being toned down (by placing it under the jurisdiction of member states' ministries for industry rather than for the environment, and by giving more consideration to maintaining the competitiveness for European industry), it still is a matter of much concern, and not just to European businesses in the chemicals sector. She has also been a driving force behind the EU's staunch support of the Kyoto protocol. But her success in Brussels has not been welcomed in Stockholm by Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, who sees her as a potential political opponent.

Stavros Dimas, the new environment commissioner, is from Greece and will hopefully be more open to market solutions to environmental issues, instead of the massive regulations supported by his predecessor.

So, does a Commission make a union? Will the new Commission change the EU's policy? Quite possibly it could. Certainly it constitutes a change if just for the fact that the new members of the EU have gotten such important new positions with real power. Barroso has shown that the Commission does not have to be a sinking-weight for the economies and peoples of Europe, and the future looks surprisingly more hopeful for European liberals and free market supporters.



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