Wednesday, June 19, 2024

European Commission should be less political and more impartial, Michel says

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The EU’s treaties explicitly provide for the European Commission to be ‘impartial’, something that the current EU executive has not followed, European Council President Charles Michel told several European media, including Euractiv.

“For the efficiency of the EU and a more political Union, the impartiality of the Commission should be an absolute priority,” Michel told reporters in Brussels, referencing Article 17 of the EU treaty, which spells out the EU’s institutional set-up.

“[But] we can see that that it has been seen sometimes as a way for the [European] Commission to be less impartial – because if you are seen as overly political, you could be seen as less impartial – and there is the need for impartial Commission,” he said, in an implicit criticism of incumbent European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, without mentioning her by name.

Over the past five years, EU member states had accused von der Leyen of ‘overreach’, ignoring national governments in her decision-making on several policy portfolios, or requests such as the energy price cap proposal.

Referring to the EU’s position on the Gaza war, where the patchy and messy European response impacted the bloc’s credibility in the region. Due to confused messaging by the EU’s executive, over the suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority, and lack of coordination on von der Leyen’s visit to Israel. 

“We faced a difficulty where the Commission position [was] not impartial and not in line with the usual position in terms of support for international humanitarian and international law,” Michel said.

“What is the risk? The risk is that this will be [used] by those who are fighting against EU integration, and us [being accused] of double standards, which is an issue of politicisation,” he added.  

According to Michel, would be “a growing concern, especially at the international level, we are accused sometimes and very often of developing double standards.

Russia, Iran, China – they are waging an intellectual and political battle against us in the international community, in the Global South, fueling this impression that we are not consistent.” 

Over the past year, the EU has been heavily criticised by third countries for the discrepancy between its support to Ukraine over Russia’s illegal invasion and the bloc’s response to the Gaza war. 

Especially on Gaza policy, the initial position of the EU’s executive was “politicised” and “not representative” of EU member states’ positions.

“I am not certain that what we need is a political [European] Commission, but for sure, what we need is a political Union, a geopolitical Union – [there] is a difference,” Michel said.

Treaty change ‘stupid mistake’ 

The European Council President also made very clear he is “not in favour of a reform of the [EU] treaty in the short-term or mid-term.”  

The idea to potentially re-open the EU’s treaties to address urgently needed reforms in the wake of future enlargement has been floated for months.

Several EU countries, including France and Germany, pitched ideas to make changes to make the bloc’s decision-making more efficient. 

“I think in the short to medium term, it would be a stupid mistake to focus too much on something we know from a political point of view not really realistic,” he said. 

Von der Leyen’s idea, floated back in September 2022 during her State of the Union speech, to have a Treaty Convention – leading to a new governing text – has not materialised. 

“It would mean referendum, it would mean difficult national debates,” he stressed.  

Treaty negotiations are traditionally viewed as difficult, as they open the door for EU member states to carve out new priorities. 

“The full potential of the Lisbon Treaty is not being used,” echoing Paris and Berlin’s position, who suggested using existing options within the realm of current treaties, to make the bloc’s decision-making more efficient. 

“We are talking with the EU leaders (…) what we could do based on the Lisbon Treaty, which could make us much more efficient – and we should start with that before opening the Pandora’s box .” 

[Edited by Rajnish Singh]

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