Peoples of Europe: Rise Up?
In a recent issue of the Daily Mail, Jason Groves informs us of some stark words by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, reporting them in an article titled "Nightmare vision for Europe as EU chief warns 'democracy could disappear' in Greece, Spain and Portugal" (June 15, 2010):
Democracy could 'collapse' in Greece, Spain and Portugal unless urgent action is taken to tackle the debt crisis, the head of the European Commission has warned.That sounds pretty serious. Too serious, in fact. Could European Commission President Barroso be exaggerating? Maybe. Consider this observation from a Reuters article by Noah Barkin et al., "Special Report: After euro zone crisis, what next?" (June 14, 2010):
In an extraordinary briefing to trade union chiefs last week, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso set out an 'apocalyptic' vision in which crisis-hit countries in southern Europe could fall victim to military coups or popular uprisings as interest rates soar and public services collapse because their governments run out of money.
The stark warning came as it emerged that EU chiefs have begun work on an emergency bailout package for Spain which is likely to run into hundreds of billions of pounds.
[W]hile they may not always agree on the future of the euro zone, there is one issue on which France and Germany have common purpose: limiting the power of the European Commission.I can't claim to see deeply into the power plays going on in the EU, but I suspect that European Commission President Barroso's words need to be read in light of the power struggle between the European Commission, which is supposed to run the day-to-day operations of the EU, and the European heads of state (especially Sarkozy and Merkel), who sit on the European Council, which is supposed to define the general political direction and priorities of the EU -- a vague division of powers that has conflict written into it.
The Lisbon Treaty was supposed to herald a more streamlined Brussels and a newly muscular Commission. So far, it hasn't worked out that way. Berlin and Paris have both pinned partial blame for Greece's meltdown on the failure of the Commission to police the EU's budget rules, and see no reason to reward Brussels with additional powers. Both [France and Germany] . . . would give more power to member states or independent bodies such as the European Central Bank, rather than the EU executive. One senior Brussels official said that if the Germans get their way, the Commission will end up as "Mrs Merkel's doormat".
Commission President Barroso seems determined to resist the Franco-German push, and has argued that there is no need for a radical overhaul of rules or the creation of new institutions. Respect for European budget rules cannot be enhanced "by reducing the credibility of community institutions and the community method", Barroso told a Brussels press conference on June 2.
Put differently, this is a power struggle between Brussels, on the one hand, and Paris and Berlin (among other national capitals), on the other hand. Barroso is trying to assert his significance and that of the European Commission to avoid being weakened by the European Council's heads of state.
But I wouldn't say that Barroso is entirely wrong. If European integration were to fail, we could see the 'peoples of Europe rise up' in a resurgence of the ethnic nationalism that plagued Europe throughout the latter nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century.
I don't think, however, that integration will necessarily fail if the European Council prevails over the European Commission, nor will integration necessarily succeed if the European Commission prevails over the European Council.
Especially when hardly anyone can recall how to distinguish council from commission . . .