You Can Ring But No One Will Answer

Article published on April 8, 2004
community published
Article published on April 8, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Prodi, Barnier and Solbes haven’t thought twice about responding to the call of national politics, leaving a terrible hole in the European executive.

People coming and going; suitcases; removal vans; boxes and Sellotape. There are still a few months of office to go but already the distinct whiff of discharge is in the unventilated air of the European Commission. Obviously, no one had ever realised how uncomfortable Brussels’ chairs are.

A proper European executive

Last week, the French president, Jacques Chirac, recalled ‘his’ Commissioner for Regional Policy, Michel Barnier, to Paris. Only a few weeks before, Ana Diamantopoulou returned to the Greek parliament having been head of the Socialist list in the national elections which led to victory for the centre-right party Nea Demokratia. Then there’s Pedro Solbes, holder of the key Budget portfolio in Brussels, who is packing his bags to take over as Minister for the Economy in Zapatero’s new Spanish Government. And President Prodi – well known to everyone south of the Alps – is parading himself on the national political scene in Italy with a view to his return to Rome as future leader of the opposition to the current majority party led by Silvio Berlusconi.

The euro, enlargement, the Convention, and the European Constitution. 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Madrid. The Prodi Commission has lived through the five most intense years of post-war European history and they leave it literally in pieces. Altiero Spinelli described his dream of ‘his’ European Commission as an authentic government directly elected by the people and responsible before them.

Like Bush wanting to go back to Texan politics

But without going that far, thus far the Commission has never limited itself to the simple role of ‘guardian of the Treaties’. It has never accepted being reduced to a technocratic directorate making decisions about trivialities. Throughout the story of European integration, it is the Commission which has pushed forward every project for the political unification of Europe, at times forcing the letter of the Treaties – as what the Commission could not say or do was said and done by a few great Commissioners of the past.

In the last five years, the European Commission, under the leadership of an Italian politician, Romano Prodi, has been transformed into a luxurious stop off point for national politicians awaiting better opportunities. In recent times, the Commission’s additional institutional role has been so weakened that five years of experience and political life in Europe have convinced our super-leaders to leave Brussels to return to Athens, Madrid, Paris and Rome. As if life and political experience over and above national politics weren’t worth it. It would be like Bush turning his back on Washington and wasting his time preparing to lead Texas again.

A few years ago, the then American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked what the telephone number for a divided Europe was. Today, Europe is more united in many areas and there is a number to ring…it’s just a shame that no one will have time to answer since the President and the Commissioners of this impossible Europe have been seduced by the recall to governments, parties and national interests.