Saturday, May 30, 2009

a few thoughts on the state of affairs in the European Union (and, inter alia, their impact on world trade talks)

On June 4-7, less than 50% of the 375 million voters in the 27 EU member states (or countries, if you prefer) will elect the members of the European Parliament for 2009-2014. Some forecasts foresee that the EPP right of center party will elect the most members but fall short of having the majority and that ALDE (Liberal and Democrats) will be the third largest party whose support the EPP will need in order to have the majority. Will shall see, on the night of June 7 or the morning of June 8.

IMO the main political issue regards the political legitimacy of the European Parliament vis-a-vis the Council (of Ministers). In recent years, via the new Treaties, the EP has argued that since it directly represented the voters of the EU, it should be given more real power in the legislative process.

And it did receive that extra power. In only a few years, the EP went from having a crucial role in the budget and mostly consultative or co-operative role in the adoption of new EU laws (regulations and directives) to "co-decision" with the Council in many many policy areas. It also gained the power to not only interview but also "approve" each new EU cabinet (aka "College") of Commissioners (not individually but as a "team", including the President of the Commission, who is "decided" by the leaders of the members states.

These new powers are no small thing. But when the EP members are elected in elections that involve less, in some cases much less, than 50% of the registered voters in member states, that does undercut, to an extent, the political legitimacy of the EP.

Eg how critical can the MEPs be in a few months when it is time to interview and approve the "unelected" (but appointed by leaders of elected governments in national elections) Commissioners?

Which brings me to the other important political and practical issue: Under the procedures of which EU Treaty will the next EU Commissioners be chosen and approved? The existing, Nice Treaty, with 27 Commissioners, one for each member state, or the provisions of the new EU Treaty, assuming that this Treaty will be ratified by the remaining member states, including a new Irish referendum.

Since the existing EU Commission took office in the late fall of 2004, some are willing to delay the choice of the new Commissioners until the new Treaty goes into force, assuming that this happens by late 2009, at the latest.

But that means

a) that it is assumed that this will happen and
b) that the existing EU Commission may represent the EU in the next WTO Ministerial Conference in late November - early December 2009, or, that an outgoing Commission may not have the political legitimacy to reach compromises that may be needed for any agreement in the Doha Round of world trade talks or on the way to the Conference (those crucial months before it).

In other words, the US elections in 2008 and now the EU elections and other institutional affairs are not helping the cause of an agreement in the world trade talks. Maybe an agreement became hard to reach after the "fast-track" powers of the previous US President (given by the US Congress (House and Senate)) expired at the middle of 2007.

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