Mr Prodi's second chance

Mr Prodi's second chance

Bulletin article
01 June 2000

The Commission is no longer the driving force behind European integration. In most of the European Union's growth areas, such as foreign and defence policy, or justice and home affairs, the member-states are in charge. Even in the fashionable area of economic reform, the Commission has been partially sidelined: the prime ministers' special representatives, or sherpas, having done much of the preparatory work for the Lisbon economic summit, are heavily involved in the follow-up. The Commission is now just one of several powerful EU bodies, alongside the Council of Ministers secretariat, the Central Bank, the Court of Justice and the Parliament.

To some extent, the relative decline of the Commission is the natural consequence of the EU's expansion into new and sovereignty-sensitive domains. But the Commission should not become too weak. The EU needs a strong Commission to police the single market, manage enlargement, and run the exchange of best practice and peer-group pressure which is central to economic reform.

Romano Prodi and his talented team of commissioners made a good start. Their proposals for administrative reform are excellent and they are right to have removed national flags from certain top jobs. But there has been a serious lack of co-ordination among the commissioners. Too often they have contradicted each other - for example on whether Poland has to be in the first wave, or might slip into the second wave of EU enlargement. Mr Prodi has at times also appeared over-ambitious for his institution, such as when talking of a European government. By this spring the Commission's problems, magnified by a poor media strategy, were damaging its reputation and thus its influence.

Mr Prodi has, thankfully, taken action. The recent reshuffle put competent officials — such as Michel Petite, David O'Sullivan and Jonathan Faull - into senior posts. These top officals must push the commissioners to work as a team. The secretariat-general needs to take on the kind of co-ordinating role that is played by the Cabinet Office in Britain. If the Commission appeared to be less ambitious, but better-co-ordinated and more efficient, governments would have less reason to shunt it aside.

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