La moda de la incertidumbre, el Brexit y Latinoamérica

En las próximas líneas enunciaremos una serie de hechos que se pudieron percibir entorno al referéndum inglés; en segundo lugar hay que tener presente dos puntos que están interconectados pero que se mueven a su propio ritmo: el económico y el político.

El mundo bajo la incertidumbre y hechos virales

El referéndum se llevó a cabo el día jueves 23 de junio de 2016. Días antes, se podía apreciar que hubo una gran campaña sobre los puntos negativos de la salida del RU (Reino Unido) de la UE, por lo menos por parte de la UE (Euronews no se dio abasto para señalar la posible catástrofe) y por algunas portadas de diarios ingleses que llegaron a manifestar por Twitter; en pocas palabras, presentaban un escenario catastrófico.

El debate se llevó a tal grado, pasando de las ideas a la confrontación física, que el ejemplo más significativo fue el asesinato de la diputada laborista Jo Cox. Llegué a pensar que era un hecho que no ganaría el Brexit, pero se comenzó a desarrollar un ambiente de miedo.

Durante el voto, las encuestadoras preconizaban la permanencia del RU en la UE en alrededor de un 52%, información que salía en los titulares. Discurríamos que no se presentaba una tendencia clara, por lo que había que esperar hasta que se diera el resultado final. Mientras se hacía el conteo de los votos, los medios daban a conocer que casi iba ganando la permanencia, hasta que se anunció el resultado definitivo. Un ambiente incierto  se podía leer o escuchar en el mundo virtual de la información.

El día 24 de junio de 2016 por la mañana, el Reino Unido anunció que era un hecho que el Brexit había ganado y durante unas horas se dieron los escenarios más escalofriantes: el miedo, la incertidumbre y en tercer lugar el shock ya eran claros. El shock se manejó con fotos de gente preocupada, gente llorando y manifestando otros  sentimientos de angustia (sin olvidar los memes más dramáticos) y surgen las preguntas: ¿Qué haremos? ¿Cómo lo haremos? ¿Adónde iremos?.. Como si nadie hubiera elaborado un proyecto para el país (o países, que son cuatro: Inglaterra, Irlanda del Norte, Escocia y Gales) desde que se propuso el referéndum en 2013, pues es imposible. Todo este escenario caótico, lleno de sentimientos y discusiones apasionadas, hicieron acto de presencia en una semana.

Lo que no puedes pasar por alto y que no se hicieron virales.

Entre los artículos que no lograron gran alcance y que mencionaban el referéndum: uno que la votación no se había propuesto al Parlamento inglés y que era ilegal; otros acerca del artículo 50 del Tratado de Lisboa, que establece un máximo de dos años para las negociaciones y que éste tiene que ser activado por el país que desea aplicarlo. Pero si el referéndum no ha sido ratificado por el Parlamento inglés, activar el artículo 50 es algo que va a llevar tiempo.

El disgusto social frente al sistema socioeconómico.

El resultado se presenta en un contexto de descontento socioeconómico mundial que puede tener muchos nombres dependiendo de la región del mundo: el modelo neoliberal, el modelo de austeridad, etc. Este malestar social se ha manifestado en tres formas: manifestaciones-huelgas (en la UE), manifestaciones-guerras sin cuartel (América Latina) y manifestaciones-movimientos raciales-grupos minoritarios (Estados Unidos de América); en RU se presentó como un voto en que la gente que ha visto reducida su calidad de vida pudo manifestarse.

El oportunismo financiero.

La primer noticia que se pudo captar en cuanto salió el resultado favorable al Brexit (sin estar un 100% monitoreando la información) fue: la bolsa de Tokio ha caído, pero hay inversionistas que ganan de la catástrofe – era lógico (sin llegar a hacer mucho análisis) que podían bajar las bolsas, sólo había que esperar el momento adecuado para comprar y vender monedas o comprar y vender acciones, un experto en finanzas debería tener la habilidad, la capacidad para ver el momento adecuado y realizar los movimientos más convenientes.

En el mundo financiero siempre hay ganadores y perdedores en el día a día que pasan desapercibidos. En cambio, cuando se da un hecho como el que estamos hablando, las grandes ganancias y pérdidas también están presentes (pero creo que los que son de látigo como de corto impacto son igual de importantes, como dice el dicho “de poquito en poquito se va llenando el jarrito”).

Para la hora que busqué el precio de la libra esterlina, aproximadamente al medio día en Santiago de Chile, no se veía que fuera muy bajo el precio, seguía siendo de las más caras.

Inglaterra cuenta con gente que tiene la capacidad para moverse fuera de las fronteras, para ellos no existen muros físicos o reglas acordadas. Londres es uno de los polos financieros más grandes del mundo junto con Nueva York y para ella es importante la libertad del movimiento financiero y económico mundial. Consideramos que el Reino Unido como país es una potencia media y no toda la población tiene los beneficios de esta riqueza, por lo que estamos hablando de tres  actores diferentes: Reino Unido como tal, Reino Unido dividido (Inglaterra – Escocia) y Londres.

El Brexit en el escenario europeo.

El Brexit afecta a todos los países, es un hecho al que se le debe dar importancia y a su respectivo seguimiento. Este fenómeno va a modificar el escenario internacional, se van a modificar las estructuras de poder, la política europea.

El RU todavía sigue y seguirá formando parte de la Commonwealth, así argumentar que el país quedará aislado no es del todo cierto. Dentro de la UE cuenta con un grupo que le será de gran ayuda para negociar un acuerdo favorable para ellos: el Grupo Visegrád (hasta cierto punto es casi el antiguo Reino Austro-Húngaro) en Europa Central y que puede aumentar su protagonismo.

América Latina, sus interrogantes y el poder blando inglés.

Para nosotros pueden surgir por lo menos dos interrogantes según nuestros intereses: ¿Es mejor que el RU siga “integrado” (medio estaba integrado) a la UE? ¿Cómo se va a dar esta nueva relación?

Los medios en América Latina les dieron mucha importancia a todos estos hechos, lo demuestra el Poder Blando con el que cuenta, pero hay que resaltar que sólo se trataban los temas comerciales.  No se percibieron – o en menor medida – titulares como: “el pueblo ha hablado” o “la búsqueda de una mejor calidad de vida se ha manifestado en las urnas” por poner unos ejemplos; de hecho, los que votaron por el OUT se les degrado, se les tacho de ignorantes sin conocimiento alguno de la importancia de pertenecer a la UE. Creo que hay que darle la importancia que se merece y abordar el problema, aunque no quiero decir con ésto que aislarse sea la respuesta.

La relación de América Latina con Inglaterra siempre ha sido concreta en términos comerciales y lo sigue siendo si le agregamos los intereses financieros. Desde la época colonial, Inglaterra se enfrentó a España para que las colonias hispanoamericanas abrieran sus mercados; por poner un ejemplo Inglaterra es el primer Estado que reconoce la Independencia de México, pero también ha sido violento como en el caso de Argentina invadida constantemente. En la actualidad, Bancos británicos (HSBC) hacen muy buenos negocios con el narcotráfico, el lavado de dinero; éste sería de lo más escandaloso, pero cualquier empresa grande puede hacer movimientos financieros ilegales.

Es posible que si continua dentro de la esfera de poder de la UE se pueda limitar un poco más su libertad de acción en países latinoamericanos, pero creo que esto no sucedería, ni la limita. Lo que puede suceder es un acercamiento para un mayor intercambio comercial RU-América Latina, en particular con los países de Derecha (Alianza del Pacifico) para lograr un intercambio más fluido de capitales y mercancías, más no de personas, pues no pienso que desee llevar más allá su relación.

Un error desde nuestra perspectiva es que México lanzó un comunicado para anunciar su disposición para seguir fortaleciendo sus vínculos con el RU. Pensamos que no hubiera sido necesario un anuncio de esta índole (poniéndolo al nivel de un ataque terrorista, por la necesidad de lanzar un comunicado al vapor); en cambio, ésto ofrece una posición de servilismo hacia el RU. México hubiera debido de hacer una declaración por el acontecimiento, no más allá (para no quedar indiferente a tal) y esperar a desarrollar una estrategia con otros países latinoamericanos.

Para terminar

Opinamos que el éxito del Brexit es una manifestación de la descomposición socioeconómica actual y concretamente la estrategia nacional del RU, que se desea ignorar la misma al tachar de ignorantes y pobres a los que votaron por el OUT. Ésto sólo es un reflejo de la escasez de oportunidades que tiene la población en Inglaterra y Gales, problemas que tienen que ser abordados de la manera  más rápida posible.

No quiero decir que el proteccionismo y separarse de la UE sea la solución; el RU es uno de los mayores promotores del sistema neoliberal, por lo que su población ya no podría ser protegida por las leyes europeas o disminuir su impacto. Estamos presentes ante un juego político más que económico.

Para Irlanda del Norte y Escocia, la UE simboliza su empoderamiento (o hasta cierta independencia ) frente a Inglaterra, además para Irlanda una relativa reunificación.

América Latina debería establecer una estrategia de manera consciente y en favor de su población y apoyando a las empresas medianas (que serían las más afectadas de todo este descontrol) y sobre todo evitando declaraciones comprometedoras. América Latina podría re-negociar algunos puntos de su comercio bilateral: podría ser una oportunidad si tenemos una estrategia en conjunto como región hispanoamericana (claro que la realidad es distinta 🙂 ), pero nosotros somos para el RU mercado, mano de obra barata y materías primas.

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Dear Brexiters, dear EU-sceptics (Part I)

Democracy has spoken: the United Kingdom (UK) is out of the European Union (EU). In a way this is not necessarily bad news: the Brits decided to say no to a system that they feel has failed them, and their decision should be enforced. Now, I am not saying that you will be better off without the EU, because I really do not think you will, but at least you will have tried (although probably not in the best possible way), so let’s cheer to that. That said, this is a sad day for the EU obviously. I am disappointed and angry, especially because that means that you have decided to turn your back on the values that the EU stands for – unity, solidarity and peace – out of particular interests, but we can only respect your decision. We can only work with what we are given, and what we are given is a Brexit.

However, let’s be clear: the UK is not the Beyoncé of the EU, and its solo career is quite uncertain. But if there is one country that can make it outside of the EU, it may well be the UK. The price to pay might be higher for the UK than for the EU on the long term, simply because it stabbed us in the back and the EU won’t forget that. Also, because it is a small country that is alone and that has always had big ambitions, while at the same time other countries in the world are huge or forge strong alliances that come in the form of regional integration systems, such as the EU. That may sound a lot like the 18th and 19th centuries, and Great Britain did not do so badly at the time (well except the constant wars of course), but there is a huge difference nowadays: we live in a globalized world, and the UK is neither big nor part of a strong alliance anymore. And guess what: it won’t, since all of its neighbors are already in an alliance (the EU), unless that alliance collapses. And here is the problem: I refuse to believe that the EU will collapse.

I give you that it is hard to be positive when only a few days have passed. I am not British, so I won’t be affected as a Brit but as a European. And here is how I decide to see things: some sort of balance within the EU has been broken, no doubt about it. The only way the EU will survive is if it resumes to being the EU that it used to be a few decades ago, when things were rolling. Sure, it will be a difficult path, but we are facing a simple choice: it is changing or crashing, so I hope that the Brexit will serve as a wake up call. A lesson, as hard and sad as it is, must be learnt. The EU has lost a battle, but it still has a war to fight. We, the citizens, have the responsibility to fight for what we want. And what I want is a harder, better, faster, stronger EU. Isn’t that what we all should want after all?

There are huge negative effects to this separation, but if we can turn them into benefits, I believe everything will be just fine. This article will hence be about that: what will a Brexit change? How can we turn this defeat into a victory? What can we do?

First, let’s take a look at the main reasons why the UK decided to exit. There are a few of them, among them: immigration, the fact that it was losing more and more power to the EU, the impossibility to negotiate preferential agreements with some Third countries, and its contribution to the EU budget.

As far as numbers are concerned, immigrants account for a tiny part of the UK society, so what was this fear even about in the first place? First, we need to tell legal immigration and illegal immigration apart. When we talk about legal immigration, we mean mostly EU immigration, and the fact that EU-citizens can go to the UK to work and get social benefits. Well, the UK was not ok with this. And it was not ok with welcoming political refugees either. And it was not ok with illegal immigration (=people fleeing war and death and did not have the “chance” to have a political refugee status), because immigrants are bad, bad people, and they are responsible for all your domestic problems. Well, guess what? There is no such thing as a massive immigration flow to the UK (legal and undocumented) and anyways it won’t change much since shutting down immigration (especially illegal immigration) is impossible. Exiting won’t change that. What it will change, however, is that if the UK makes labor and legal immigration harder, then the EU will make incoming immigration from the UK equally hard, may it be for business or travel purposes. This can’t be a win-win situation, this will only be a lose-lose situation. But domestic political battles (errr David Cameron) have their reasons that the reason ignores.

Another reason for a Brexit is the impossibility for the EU Member States to negotiate separate bilateral commercial agreements with Third countries. The EU was not in favor of negotiating with China and India, but the UK was. The same happened with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA: the UK was ready to accept anything while the rest of the EU was quite reluctant. I am tempted to say that the Brexit is a good thing in that respect, because both the EU and the UK will be able to do as they please: the UK will be able to negotiate with the USA, China and India – but still these three countries won’t be quite satisfied, because one country compared to 28 countries does not quite represent the same market – while the EU won’t have any pressure to do so. Generally speaking, when it comes to negotiating commercial agreements, it can definitely be an advantage to be a country. Let’s take the example of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) (for more information, see article “the Brexit and the relations with Latin America and the Caribbean” from March, 12th 2016): one of the main reasons why trade between the EU and these countries has never really taken off is that LAC countries have always been reluctant to negotiating with the EU as a block (or rather they can’t agree with each other), so that it creates an imbalance that the EU, a group of countries by nature, cannot correct, so the LAC region is the one that necessarily needs to adapt. The UK will have a bigger chance at a fruitful commercial relation with this sub-continent, because it is something that the EU is not: a country. Obviously, it will need to swallow its pride, because as a country it will not be more powerful than bigger countries such as Brazil or Mexico, and also the UK trade balance is negative with some other countries, especially Colombia and Argentina, so it won’t exactly be in the position of demanding.

As far as the budget is concerned, the solidarity principle applies within the EU, meaning that richer countries necessarily pay more and proportionally get less return on investment than poorer countries (although the UK fully benefited from the Single Market and dit get a lot more return on investment than most countries). This rule has always been pretty clear, and yet the UK had already obtained a cut in its financial contribution to the budget. Obviously, that was not enough, and we can regret once again that the UK decided not to play by the rules when it reckoned that these rules did not exclusively favor its own interests. From the moment you decide to be part of a supranational organization, you should at least think a tiny bit of the greater good, so I do not reckon that the UK should have benefited from so many favors in the first place, or that quitting out of particular interests was fair.

Finally, as a supranational organization, the EU by nature takes on more power to the detriment of the countries. Of course, the UK had always seen the EU as a mere market to play in, it has never hidden the fact that is was against a closer union, but with the years passing, it was getting obvious that the economy would not be the only EU field of competency. Yes, the UK decided not to take part in the Schengen Area and the Eurozone, and blocked as many decisions as possible that implied more delegations of powers to Brussels, but what did it think? That this would just stop? Many countries and EU-citizens were getting quite fed up with the reasoning and selfishness of the UK, so the question is: why didn’t you exit earlier, when you saw that there was no turning back? In the middle of an economic, institutional and security crisis, exiting is a really bad timing, and blaming the EU for all your domestic problems seems a bit simplistic. In case you Brits wonder why the EU citizens and leaders are disappointed and angry, the answer is easy: you begged us to be a part of the EU, yet you were never a part of its spirit, and eventually you let us down at the worst possible time in the history of the EU. I believe it will take some time for the EU to trust you again, so do not expect our leaders to make your life easy, because you most certainly did not make ours easier.

That said, the Brexit, most and foremost, is a hard blow for the EU’s equilibrium and for the most liberal countries. At the Council of the EU (which represents the interests of the Member States at governmental level and takes the major decisions, for more information see note “The EU-institutions: the Council of the European Union” from May, 30th 2016), a decision can be blocked by a minimum of four Member States representing 35% of the population of the EU. As a consequence, it was quite common to see an economic measure blocked by the “liberal bloc” (25% of the total EU-population), which was, among others, integrated by the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the UK, and Germany sometimes joined forces to achieve the necessary minimum of 35%. With the UK (one of the three biggest EU-countries) out, this bloc will represent only 15% of the total population, and even with Germany that would not be enough to achieve the 35% of the population needed to block an economic measure. That means that these countries will have to seek the support of conservative countries, which won’t be such an easy task. In that respect, the Brexit means a breach in the economic and political balance between the member States that somehow will need to be restored for an opposition to even exist.

Also, the three biggest countries (France, Germany and the UK) used to lead the EU. Germany and the UK, although with some substantial differences, had more or less the same position towards the EU, and France was often forced to tag along and adapt to them. With the UK out of the picture, that leaves Germany vs. France without any other country to weigh in, meaning that these two will either have to coincide (good luck on that), or give more power to another EU country – most likely Italy if it came to that. The basic question will be this one: does Italy have big enough shoulders to fill the empty seat, or could Germany and France get along well enough to lead the EU together? For now, it seems likely that Italy could join the club, because Merkel and Hollande have very different opinions about the EU integration. However, Italy is closer to France than it is to Germany, so Paris would gain a lot of weight. Knowing that, would Merkel allow Italy to be “promoted”? And finally, Germany has been the backbone of the EU for the last decade or so. In case France and Italy took the decisions and Germany was left aloof, what would happen to the EU and its survival? This point is extremely important and needs to be taken care of cautiously: the EU was originally created to protect and guarantee peace. This is why Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux gathered together in the first place, and this is why countries such as Portugal, Greece and the former communist bloc were integrated, making it almost impossible to take decisions with 28 Members. Peace has always been chosen over consolidating the EU so far (although not always for good reasons), and I believe it was eventually the right choice. Nowadays, the balance between the decisions-takers must at all costs be preserved. All Member States will need to make sacrifices.

We have to work with what we are given, and what we are now given will soon be an EU with 27 Member States. I believe that this still is too much to function efficiently and to make progress, so a “multi-speed” approach might be needed. This is already the case of the Eurozone and the Schengen Area, so I believe this would be the wisest path to follow from now on. France, who is in favor of an ever-closer EU, and Germany, more reluctant to this idea, would not need to agree on everything, and none of them would feel frustrated. Sure, that would make the EU as such even more complicated than it now is, but each country would communicate on what it is a part of, so eventually that would not make each country’s role within the EU more complicated. Until then, France and Germany would need to agree that a “multi-speed” EU could be the only way around preventing the dissolution of the EU. In that respect, I hope the exit of Great Britain, which was a supporter of this idea, will serve us right, and that the Member States won’t take it as a sign that the biggest obstacle to the EU-integration has been overcome, because there are many others, like corruption ans standstill.

The EU-institutions: the European Commission

In our attempt at understanding the structure of the European Union and its institutions, this week’s article will be dedicated to the European Commission, which represents the common interests of the EU. It is a bit of a “revolutionary” organ of the system since it is supposed to be independent from the States and has been granted important powers over the years – which is not obviously a good thing, as we will see.

According to the treaties, the Commissioners are elected for five years, and their term can be renewed once. They must be selected among the citizens of the Member States. They are chosen on the grounds of their overall competences, as well as for their independency from the national governments (they cannot be employed anywhere else at the same time, and they do not receive orders from their country of origin). They are the political organ of the Commission, and are responsible for setting the strategical orientations of the Commission. Their number has changed over the years: when the EU was made of 15 States, the bigger States were granted two Commissioners, while the smaller States were granted one. However, the enlargements of the 2000s would have made this number too high for the EU to work properly, and it was decided in the Treaty of Nice (2001) that each country shall be granted only one Commissioner, each one in charge of a Portfolio (equivalent to a Ministry). Amongst the 28 Commissioners, we can distinguish the President of the Commission (since 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Prime Minister from tax-heaven Luxemburg, who has been involved in the Luxleaks affair, and who followed Portuguese José Manuel Barroso, suspected of bribery), seven Vice-Presidents (amongst which the High-Representative of the Union for Foreign Policy and Security Policy, currently Federica Mogherini, former Italian Ministry for International Affairs), and 20 “regular” Commissioners (amongst which former Ministers). You might have understood it by now: it does not seem obvious that they are independent from their respective countries of origin. Anyways, together they form the so-called “College of Commissioners”. Now, I won’t be talking about their salary because it would be indecent, all the more so as we European tax payers basically pay their wages and their absurd work-related expenses (in 2009, European Commission President Barroso spent no less than €730.000 on “work-related expenses”, while the average expenses of the other Commissioners usually amount at around €15.000), and also of course because they are often suspected (but never convicted because obviously they are always innocent) of corruption and/or bribery. After all, the high officials of the EU are no different from the high officials in each Member State. On the bright side, with a bit of research, the relative freedom of press and the help of whistleblowers (such as Julian Assange), you can find pretty much anything you want – I have myself been quite obsessed with transparency and corruption lately.

At the beginning, the procedure to appoint the Commissioners was controlled by the States: the candidates were designated by the national governments themselves, and a vote of trust was organized in each State. Nowadays, the European Parliament interferes in the process – however only to give the impression that the institution representing the peoples of the EU has weight: the Heads of States agree to designate a candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission, and then the European Parliament approves of him/her or does not. After this, each State proposes a Commissioner. In a fourth time, the Heads of States, along with the elected-but-not-yet-appointed President of the Commission, approve the list of candidates. In a fifth phase, the MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) audition all potential Commissioners, and validate the whole group of the College of Commissioners. It is only then (the sixth step that is) that the Heads of States can officially appoint the European Commissioners and the President. Six phases overall: that sounds like a bit of a hassle. Usually, the Parliament approves of the list of Commissioners that it is presented with, but for the Barroso Commission I (surprisingly, the guy was appointed twice) it  had no choice but to refuse one candidate (only one, that may as well be the true problem): the Italian Commissioner-to-be Rocco Buttiglione, a close friend of Silvio Berlusconi, who would have been in charge of the Justice Portfolio and still dared declare in front of the Parliament: “I may think homosexuality is a sin, but this has no effect on politics unless I say homosexuality is a crime” (I mean what is wrong with the equation Berlusconi + condemning homosexuality = fair Justice?). However, Dutch Neelie Kroes, who had been holding management positions in 43 big companies, been a member of 12 European companies’ Boards, and may or may not have been involved in shady arms deals, was still appointed for the Competition Portfolio (apparently no one in the EU has ever heard of conflicts of interests, among others) – and she has not been the only one in a similar position throughout the European Commission history. Casual responsibilities and salaries for casual people, right? The Lisbon Treaty has introduced a precision regarding the nomination procedure of the President of the Commission: the European Parliament (whose MEPs are elected by the EU-citizens) must follow the political majority within the Parliament when it invests the President of the Commission, meaning that the President of the Commission must belong to the same political orientation as the majority of the Parliament.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention on the possible scenarios regarding the end of the Commissioners mandates. Indeed, we can make out the “classical” hypothesis (end of term, death) and the “particular” hypothesis: voluntary resignation (in 1999, during the Santer Commission, the 20 Commissioners decided to resign for they were suspected of poor management), compulsory resignation (decision taken by the Court of Justice at the request of either the Commission or the Council of the EU), collective cease to hold office (cease of the mandate of all the Commissioners resulting from a motion of censure from the European Parliament), or else initiative of the President of the Commission with the consent of the College of Commissioners. Once the Commissioner has left, the Commissioner that replaces him/her only finishes the remaining time of the mandate.

Now, let me tell you a bit about the inner organization of the European Commission, beginning with the General Secretariat, based in Brussels. It bears two key responsibilities: assisting the President of the Commission in preparing the meetings, and ensuring an effective coordination between the departments. These departments employ a great deal of people (in total, the European Commission employs about 38.000 people), and are organized into 33 Directorates-General (DG), each of them under the authority of one Commissioner (meaning that a few Commissioners have authority over more than one DG). Altogether, they form the administrative organ of the Commission. Each DG is organized in Units, and each unit employs an average of a dozen of people. Some DGs, like CLIMA (Climate Action), DEVCO (International Cooperation and Development), and HOME (Migration and Home Affairs) are of course bigger than others. I won’t go much more into detail, because the functioning of theses DGs is very complicated, but each DG is linked to a key aspect of EU-policies. The EEAS (European External Action Service, which corresponds to the diplomatic service of the EU) used to be a DG, but since the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 it is officially independent from the Commission and shares some competences with it – although it is still linked to various DGs and the control over its competences in the fields of aid, development, energy and enlargement is still managed by the European Commission and the corresponding Commissioners.

The Advisory Committees were established by the treaties and the Commission itself. They give opinions in order to help the Commission work properly. They consist of experts designated by the Member States, and the Commission can consult them whenever it wants. These Committees exist because the treaties did not consider experts in certain fields. There are a lot of them (more than 250), and the Commission calls them in very often.

The EU Structural Funds consist in lines of budget dedicated to a specific action. They are under the supervision of DG REGIO (Regional and Urban policy). The aim of the Structural Funds is to reduce the regional disparities between all Member States in terms of income, wealth and opportunities, meaning the poorer the region, the more it will get from the Structural Funds (which boils down to the solidarity principle between the States). The so-called outermost regions, such as the French Guiana (France), the Azores Islands (Portugal) and the Canary Islands (Spain) are eligible, so not only do the poorer continental regions receive money, but all of them. It used to be common to tell Structural Funds instigated by the treaties and those established by the European Commission apart, but since 2007, things have been made easier: there are only two Structural Funds: the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) and the ESF (European Social Fund). The ESF promotes the access to work and professional mobility of workers through financial interventions, while the ERDF aims at reducing regional imbalances. In the past, there were two other Structural Funds that lost this status since then: the EARFD (European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, formerly known as the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund EAGGF) manages the budget of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and falls under the general budget of the EU; and the EMFF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, formerly known as the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance FIFG) for Fisheries. The Structural Funds are divided between the Member States. For the financial programming 2007-2013, the total budget dedicated to them was €308 billion (the biggest envelope ever), but much of it has not been spent due to the complexity of procedures and the lack of promotion by the national public authorities. The countries that use them the most, however, are Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and surprisingly Austria.

Let’s jump quickly to the functioning of the European Commission. According to Article 250 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, “The Commission shall act by a majority of its Members. Its Rules of Procedures shall determine the quorum” (=minimum number of attendees). The acts must hence be adopted by a majority, which underlines the importance of the Commissioners. In practice, this principle has been adjusted since a collegial system bears disadvantages, such as the slow-down of the proceedings of meetings and the paralysis of the decision making process. The first arrangement, as stated before, is that the Commissioners are responsible for Portfolios, and only a few of them will deal with certain fields. The second arrangement was made by the Rules of Procedures and establishes that the Commission shall resort to the written procedure (for which a quorum is foreseen), even though the written procedure basically means that the Commission does not sit. This enables some decisions to be taken quickly. This arrangement, however, is an exception since it concerns only the less controversial matters – and everybody knows that everything is controversial in the EU. Third arrangement: the Commission can delegate some of its competences to external authorities. However, two limits were set: the delegations of competences must be limited to the power of preparing or implementing a legal act, and these delegations cannot by any means grant powers to an authority that does not have competences in the fields of said delegations.

The role of the President of the Commission is quite significant: he calls in a Commission meeting approximately once a week (usually on Wednesdays) in Brussels, and sets the agenda of the day as well as the quarterly working programs. These meetings are not open to the public – unfortunately. The deliberation system used is the simple majority. For the vote, each Commissioner can be assisted by a Cabinet. Sometimes, working groups can be called in to proceed with a technical inspection of list A of the agenda of the day, meaning that their role is similar to the COREPER’s in the Council of the EU (for more information, see the note “The EU-institutions: the Council of the European Union” from May, 30th 2016).

Finally, I would like to talk about the attributions of the Commission. We can discern three of them: first of all, it is the “guardian of the treaties” because its first reason of being is to make sure that the countries, as well as the other institutions, respect them. As a matter of fact, it has various means of action: powers of prevention so as to draw the attention of the States and the institutions on the risks of violating the rights of the Union by adopting recommendations and notices; powers of suing culprits of an infringement to the rights of the Union by making known a failure of a State in the adoption of a text (infringement proceedings, actions for failure to act, and actions for annulment); powers of control over the implementation of a hardship clause (=derogatory exception to a principle).

Its second attribution is to be an initiative organ: it must make propositions to the Council, which then decides. That boils down to saying that it owns the general responsibility of a judicial document. The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) added that the Council can only adopt a judicial document that modifies the proposition of the Commission by ruling unanimously – and with 28 members that is not so easy. An interesting fact is that the citizens can also suggest to the Commission that it formulates a proposition – but that must be done by at least one million citizens, representing one quarter of the number of Member States.

Third attribution: the Commission is an executive organ that enacts the treaties and the legal documents of the EU. The Commission is the institution that employs the most people, so it is seen as the best institution to ensure the full respect of the treaties. To reach this objective, it can take different types of measures: adopt enacting measures of general impact (=regulations and rules) and of particular impact (directives and decisions). Before the Single European Act, the Council used to implement the rules that it would adopt. Later on, the Council has been allowed to delegate some of its executive power to the Commission thanks to the help of Committees (comitology). With the Treaty of Lisbon, the comitology was removed, but in the practice it can still delegate some of its powers to the Commission with the previous consent of the European Parliament.

I personally have mixed feelings about the European Commission and its role in the European panorama. Like all EU institutions, it is necessary but too complicated, so let’s not waste our time arguing about that. The problem instead is that, in addition to being a technical and bureaucratic organ, it is also a political organ: the Commissioners are indeed suggested – even chosen, because let’s be frank: the Parliament does not really have a say in the selection – by the governments of the Member States. These Commissioners are hardly “regular” citizens: they are already the economic and political “elite”, which is fine as long as they are independent from the States, but some of them are not since they actually used to serve as Ministers or else in their countries of origin, and are chosen by the national governments.

However, on an even more serious note: corruption is knocking at the front door, and you can’t expect people to be ok with that. You want the EU citizens to put their trust in their leaders? Well you have got to appoint public servants that will work for the benefit of the citizens, not public servants who should be (or are being) investigated for corruption at the moment of their nomination; this is the primary and sole reason of being for a public servant. And if you have a reasonable doubt, you do not appoint them, it is called a fiduciary relationship. It would probably be less serious (although still quite serious) to appoint incompetent Commissioners because they still would have a team to advise them, so nobody would actually notice that they are useless – and after five years they would leave anyways.

Furthermore, how many of us are able to name at least the Commissioner of our own country? Very few. In comparison, how many of us are able to name the most important Ministers in our country? A lot. How many of us have heard the Commissioners and/or the President of the Commission speak about the yearly results and expenses of the Commission? None, because there is no such thing within the European Commission (at the most only reports that no one understands), although accountability and statements of balances highly contribute to transparency and anti-corruption. That tells a lot about the state of the EU. When you put such people in such high profile jobs with such responsibilities, when you pay them that much with the people’s (clean) money, the least you can do is to make them account for it. You cannot expect a positive reaction from the citizens, and you cannot expect to raise their interest in the EU, because no matter what they do, they will always feel like it is never going to change. I also reckon that these Commissioners should be directly elected by the citizens – or at least the President of the Commission, which is not even the case.

I will go even further: I have come to wonder whether a Brexit would actually be such a bad thing. Economically, it definitely would be a disaster (although no one seems to know to what extent), and I ensure you that in the long term I would prefer keeping the UK within the EU. But in the short run, think about it: what message would it send to the EU leaders/elites, and to the European Commission in particular? The citizens themselves have the opportunity to say no to corruption, to the system, to have their voices heard. What a huge failure that would be for the EU, for its Commissioners, for its economists, for its system, for everyone. If that could serve as a wakeup call and a way of building a new, more democratic EU, then why the hell not? They would have had the guts to do it despite all the repeated (exaggerated in some cases) alarms from politicians and economists. Ask Greece to do the same. I am pretty sure the citizens would vote for a Grexit, so good on the Brits for deciding themselves. The EU is meant for and belongs to its citizens, let’s not forget that. I used to believe in the EU, in the European Commission, in the core values it used to stand for. Not anymore, because these values are gone. This EU is not the EU I want. This EU is not mine, it is someone else’s: it is the leaders’ and the elites’. They have converted it into their own backyard. And that probably is the biggest issue.