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Fed up with taking the flak, Brussels launches a revamp

The Future of the EU
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The Commission wants national capitals to stop hiding behind the EU on controversial decisions.
PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images
The Commission wants national capitals to stop hiding behind the EU on controversial decisions.
A s Valentine’s Day missives go, ‘Comitology: Commission proposes more transparency and accountability in procedures for implementing EU law’ hardly gets the pulse racing. But the press release outlined an action plan President Jean-Claude Juncker hopes will help save the EU.
Unfortunately, ‘comitology’ does not refer to a branch of astrophysics. Instead it is a largely secretive procedure in which national experts gather with EU boffins to draft rules on technical but often controversial topics such as herbicides, trade and pollution levels. The executive Commission has long resented the ability of large countries to abstain on politically sensitive issues, forcing it to cast the deciding vote and, Mr. Juncker thinks, shoulder the blame.
He has often railed about member states shirking responsibility and using Brussels as a scapegoat at home - a tendency he partly blamed for the Brexit vote. "It is not right that when EU countries cannot decide among themselves whether or not to ban the use of glyphosate in herbicides, the Commission is forced by Parliament and Council to take a decision,” he said in his State of the Union speech last year. “So we will change those rules."
The plan would shake up voting rules so there are fewer abstentions, involve ministers in the process and for the first time reveal which way experts from each member state have voted. This will irk national capitals as well as businesses which fear science will now be subjugated to public opinion, but has been cheered by environmental groups.
Eighteen industrial associations, including the European livestock union, released a statement urging the Commission to reconsider. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, however, said the current situation “is untenable. It compromises the EU’s democratic credentials, and undermines the protection of public health and the environment.” Haggling over glyphosate may not grab headlines outside farmers’ magazines, but it shows the debate about EU accountability in action.
Mr. Juncker, a flamboyant former prime minister of Luxembourg, has announced that he will not seek a second term in 2019, but he is determined to make his mark by then. Coming into office he promised to slash the number of laws the Commission proposes. Now he wants members to take more responsibility for tough decisions. This arch-federalist thinks the only way to save the EU is to inject more of the nation state into it.
Joe Wallace
The World Weekly
16 February 2017 - last edited 6 days ago