It was all supposed to be so easy: Barroso’s Cabinet was to be voted upon and accepted by the European Parliament. The transition from Prodi to Barroso would go smoothly and the Union as we know it would live happily ever after. But something went wrong. Suddenly, Barroso withdrew his Commission from the Parliament’s voting agenda. Why? Is this a crisis?
The three Bs: Buttiglione, Barroso, Berlusconi
Whatever the media coverage of the story may say, Buttiglione’s main fault was not his conservative views on homosexuals, but the fact that he failed to get Parliamentary consent to become Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner. And the reason he did not get consent was because Barroso proposed him for a portfolio which he knows little about, simply because he is a friend of one of Europe’s richest men, Silvio Berlusconi. All three “Bs” have committed the same crime: they have ignored the European Parliament’s role in the election process of the new Commission. In doing so, they have created an institutional clash. The only way to resolve this clash is for both the proposed Commissioners and Barroso to show some respect to the Parliament.
The European institutional structure is based on the “checks and balances” rule, whereby the four main institutions (the Council, the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice) even each other out. Putting the Court aside for a moment, and taking into account their influence on the decision-making process, I would risk saying that the division of power among the institutions is as follows: 50% belongs to the Council, 35% to the Commission and 15% to the Parliament. Most of the people who believe that the ultimate goal of the European project is political would say that out of the three institutions mentioned above, the Commission and the Parliament are the institutions which need supporting, because they either represent “supra-nationality” (the Commission), or give a democratic legitimacy to the Union (the Parliament). In this respect, the Parliament’s victory is a Pyrrhic one. Yes, it has gained some respect. Yes, Barroso and the Commission will have to deal more carefully with it. However, the Council’s influence remains the same.
So, there is no crisis in the European Union, inasmuch as the institutional balance remains roughly the same - that is to say, imbalanced. The Council remains the most important player among the Union institutions and member states are still masters of the treaties. It is not the Parliament which chose Barroso and, in any case, it is not he that presides over the Council meetings. However, in one sense there is a crisis in the European Union. A minor one. Not since the Santer case has the Parliament flexed its muscles in such a manner. It proves I did not waste my time when I voted in the elections on June 13th. It reminds us once again that every other institution has to take the Parliament seriously.