The EU-institutions: the Court of Justice of the EU

COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EU

Today I have decided to go back to the series that I have started about a year ago regarding the functioning and attributions of the EU-institutions: after having reviewed the Council, the Parliament and the Commission, we are going to talk about the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), currently composed of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the European General Court (EGC).

The functioning of the CJEU (originally called the Court of Justice of the European Communities CJEC) is determined by the treaties. The protocols setting its status are annexed to the treaties and must hence be taken into account since protocols have the same status as treaties since the judgement „Groupement des Industries Sidérurgiques Luxembourgeoises v High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community“ dating from 1956. The treaties also contemplated the creation of a jurisdiction of first instance, and so on October, 24th 1988, a decision of the Commission set the record straight by creating the Court of First Instance (CFI). As you may have understood, there were hence two different jurisdictions (the CJEC and the CFI), and the EU was hence forced to define a set of links and rules regarding the powers of each of these instances: the Treaty of Maastricht inserts provisions related to the CFI via art. 254, and the CJEC was modified by the Lisbon Treaty to become the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – remember that the Lisbon Treaty first replaced the term „European Communities“ with „European Union“. However, it does not exactly represent the same jurisdiction: the CJEU encompasses the former CJEC (now called European Court of Justice ECJ), the CFI (now European General Court EGC) and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal (dissoluted in 2016, so we will leave it aside) – yes, the Lisbon Treaty was meant to make things simpler. There are hence two jurisdictions within the CJEU that we will study: the ECJ and the EGC.

Now, regarding the inner organization of the jurisdictions of the EU, there is one basic principle that you need to bear in mind: the principle of independance, which stems from the treaties.

Let’s start with the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Normally, there is one judge per Member State. Now, it is not a problem when the EU is made of an odd number of countries – which was the case until Croatia joined the club in 2013 – but now that we are 28 – and soon 27 again with the Brexit, really the EU is hard to keep track of – things are slightly different: when one more judge is needed to achieve an odd number, the Member States take turns by alphabetical order – as it is the case with many things regarding the EU. Every three years, half of the judges change. However – and oddly enough – treaties do not refer to the nationality of the judges, and a non-written agreement enables the repartition. The goal, however, is that every legal system of the Member States be represented. That still looks suspicious to us: the ECJ is supposed to be independent from the States, so who cares where they come from, right? And if we care where they come from, why the heck not enshrine it in the treaties? Anyways, there are in addition to the judges 11 advocates general: every big country has one, and the six other ones take turns between the remaining 23 States by alphabetical order. These advocates are also independent and impartial and give conclusions that are very detailed, to say the least. They are elected for six-years (renewable once), and until Lisbon they were designated through the reaching of a common agreement of all Member States – even though they were supposed to be independent. Nowadays, there is a previous examination phase by a committee composed of former members of the ECJ and the European General Court (EGC), members of national supreme jurisdictions and legal experts known for their EU-laws skills. EU-wide, only France does not possess an organ competent for sorting the applications. Furthermore, each advocate and judge is assisted by a few advisers, and their status implies a few conditions: competency, since they have to gather all conditions that are necessary in their home country to practice the highest jurisdictional functions OR be a legal adviser that has inarguable competencies; independence because they are not allowed to request or accept instructions; no other job; principle of reserve; taking of an oath; and obligation to reside in the city where the ECJ is located – that is in Luxemburg. Their mandate can end prematurely in case of death or required end of term (the other judges can observe that a judge does not comply with the necessary conditions any longer). As far as the EGC is concerned, the election of a judge is linked to his quality of magistrate. There are no advocates general – so to speak, for it can happen that a judge needs to call on a specialist when a case is particularly complex.

The presidents of the ECJ and the EGC are designated by their respective jurisdiction, meaning that there should be no interference from outside. The judges designate a president for a mandate of three renewable years, and the voting system used is the secret ballot with relative majority-vote. The President of the ECJ is currently Koen Lenaerts from Belgium, while the President of the EGC is Marc Jaeger from Luxemburg (a lot of power for Luxemburg between him and J.C. Juncker). The president bears responsibilities related to the jurisdictional function, as well as attributions linked to the procedure proceedings: he presides over the hearings, allocates the cases to the chambers, sets the dates of the hearings and adopts provisional measures and particular measures called orders.

The way the ECJ and the EGC work is pretty simple: the principle is to attribute a case to the chambers – sometimes during a plenary session. It has always been so as far as the EGC is concerned, and since the Maastricht Treaty, it also works that way for the ECJ. The ECJ meets in chambers of three up to five judges most of the time, and of 11 judges whenever the case is more complicated – the smaller the chambers, the more chambers have to gather together. The ECJ sits collegially when it wants to dismiss the European Ombudsman or when it must announce the deposition of a European Commissioner – which (unfortunately) quite frankly never happens. The EGC usually sits in chambers of three to five judges too, the difference being that the EGC can sit with only one sole judge when the case is really easy.

All services are independent from the Registry, which is presided by a registrar – duh! – for six years. The voting system, again, is the secret ballot with relative majority-vote. The registrar is responsible for assisting during jurisdictional activities: he attends the hearings, ensures the reception, transmission and custody of the judicial documents, is guardian of the Seals and is responsible for the Court’s archives and publications. The EGC can make use of the services of the ECJ for it practically has none – the services of the ECJ have 1,200 employees, while those of the EGC only have 80.

Let’s come to the links between the ECJ and the EGC. The Treaty of Nice has established some satisfying criteria by setting that the EGC was competent in four cases: actions for annulment, for failure to act, for damages and regarding litigations of the European public service. All of these actions must be filed at the EGC itself except when the case is given to a specific jurisdictional chamber by the Council unanimously. The EGC is supposed to know the decisions of the jurisdictional chambers. Normally, prejudicial matters (questions asked by a national judge to the European jurisdiction) are also within its scope of attributions. In 2010 for example, 268 judgements have been given, and the average length to solve a case was two years – which is similar to the ECJ.

An appeal to the ECJ must be based on the violation of a legal rule, whose starting point runs from the moment the EGC has ruled a decision. Member States and institutions are allowed to file an appeal, even when they did not intervene in front of the EGC. An appeal can be valid when a judgement is not sufficiently motivated – that is if the solution is not sufficiently explained – or if the EGC did not answer a point risen by one of the parties. If the appeal is valid, the ECJ nullifies the decision of the EGC: either it gives a new ruling itself, or it returns the case to the ECJ so that the latter can rule again

Now let’s jump to the last part of our article: the procedure proceedings to the jurisdictions of the EU. The jurisdictions are multilingual, and there are 24 official languages within the EU (four countries speak the same languages as others: Cyprus, Austria, Luxemburg and Belgium). The language of the procedure is normally chosen by the claimant, with a couple of “exceptions”: if the defendant is a State or a private person, the language used is the one of the State or of the State where the person resides. The general principle only applies if the defendant is an EU-institution – meaning that the general principle is the exception and the exception is the general principle, but who cares? Second exception: the language can stem from an agreement between the two parties. Statements of cases, decisions, etc. must be given into the chosen language. A deliberation (the procedure that precedes a decision) is given either in English or in French since these are the two working languages of the jurisdictions. A publication has to be made in all 24 official languages, while an appeal is given in the language of the procedure of the appeal to the Court.

Now, as far as the representation of the parties is concerned, the EU-institutions are represented by a member of their legal service, the States by a public servant from the Ministry of foreign affairs, physical and moral persons by a lawyer or a teacher of law that is a citizen of a State, whose legislation allows him to plead (this is the case in France for instance).

The legal costs are the sums of money that are invested and recoverable (amounts due to the witnesses and the experts, the necessary costs for the parties, etc.). In case the institution is represented by an agent, this does not count as a legal cost; however, if it is represented by a lawyer, then it does. The losing party has to pay all of the legal costs, “except” for the Member States and the institutions, which always pay for their own legal costs; however, the jurisdiction can sentence the winning party to refund the “vexatious” costs to the losing party. Legal costs are calculated according to the level of difficulty of the case, to the current economy situation, etc. Usually, no more than €-100/hour are granted to a witness or an expert.

Regarding the outcome of a legal procedure, the jurisdiction issues judgements or orders. Judgements are given after a three-step process: the presentation of the facts, arguments and conclusions, the reasoning of the jurisdiction, and the decision of the jurisdiction. If you try to read some of them, you will probably find that they are way too long, but there is a fair explanation to that: EU-laws are very recent and complicated, so that the jurisdictions feel like they have to justify and motivate their decisions – all the more so as some Member States argue with their competencies. Orders are given whenever they are provided for by the rules of procedure of the relevant jurisdiction. They are given by the president himself and are justified more succinctly.

 

This is how we finish our article regarding the Court of Justice of the European Union. It can seem like it is a bit complicated by reading this text, but bear in mind that I gave you the detailed version and that it is not much more complicated than national courts. The EU-jurisdictions are presented with more and more cases, which is why it is important that you understand how it works and what it is they are doing. Generally speaking, they are doing quite a good job to be honest, and no one can really argue with its usefulness to settle disputes between entities or persons from two different countries.

The EU-institutions: the European Parliament (Part II)

On July 21st 2016, we published a first article on the structure, organization and functioning of the European Parliament as part of our series dedicated to the EU-institutions. It has been a while since we last published something about the functioning of the EU-institutions, so it is high time we continue what we have started. This week’s article will thus deal with the second part of the European Parliament, i.e its attributions. I prefer apologizing right now for what I am going to write because that is very complicated. I tried to make it fun, but I gave up because the Parliament’s attributions are not fun.

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First, we need to know that the Parliament’s powers have been developed by the treaties and by interinstitutional agreements – meaning agreements between institutions. At the beginning, it merely possessed deliberation and political control powers. Nowadays, it is also part of the legislative process regarding external relations and budget matters. Its role has gained importance over the years, and we strongly believe it will continue in the coming years since the EU is facing a major trust crisis among its citizens, jeopardizing the future of the EU – and even threatening its core existence. Since the Parliament is supposed to represent the interests of the citizens, we reckon it is inevitable that it acquires more powers if we are to save the European Union.

First, let’s talk about its power of political control. Originally, it was exerted on the Commission. Nowadays, its influence is also valid regarding the Council. It possesses various means to do so: it can adopt resolutions regarding the activities of the Commission and the Council, which is a way of influencing their work. For instance, when one of these institutions adopts its yearly work program, the Parliament adopts a resolution on these programs afterwards. Unfortunately, a resolution has no legal force, meaning they are more or less opinions. Second means: it can ask questions to the Commission and the Council, either written or oral. However, since nothing is easy with the EU, do not go on thinking that asking a question does not go along with groundrules, such as the fact that the initiative must stem from a parliamentary commission, a political group or a minimum of seven MEPs. Third means: it can start legal proceedings through the European Court of Justice.

The Parliament also possesses a power of control that only applies to the Council since the Council must present a report to the Parliament after each and every meeting it holds, as well as a yearly report. As far as its powers on the sole Commission are concerned, the Parliament can make the Commissioners quit through the vote of a motion of no confidence that can only be filed by a political group or a minimum of 1/10th of the Members of the Parliament. In this scenario, a period of 72 hours from the submission of the motion is set, after which the motion must gather 2/3 of the votes. Obviously, the Parliament does not use that power very much: it happened in 2014, when the Luxleaks affair involving the at-the-time-and-still-President Jean-Claude Juncker happened. But it eventually failed, obviously: you do not make this kind of people go away that easily – and if this was not enough, we can only wonder what is! Another “power” (let’s keep that into brackets) that the Parliament has over the Commission is that it intervenes in the nomination procedure of the President and the Commissioners, and it can hence veto a nomination – however mostly in theory since the Parliament has refused one Commissioner only throughout the years (for more information, see article “The EU-institutions: the European Commission” from June 14th 2016) and the mystery still holds: how on Earth could they only refuse one candidate?! However, if the EU is to be saved, the Parliament will definitely need to use them a bit more – the citizens are rightfully angry at the EU and hence thirsty for corrupt and incompetent blood.

The budgetary power of the Parliament resides in the making and execution of the budget. It represents about €145 billion (in 2015) – it seems like a lot, but it actually represents only 1% of the wealth generated by the Member States every year. The attributions of the Parliament have spread over the years: the first treaties only granted it a consultative power. A proposition was handed by the Commission to the Parliament, which could make amendments that were not legally binding. The Council could then adopt the budget. However, the Parliament wanted to weigh in a bit more, and it was then established in the Treaty of Brussels of 1975 that the Parliament be the co-holder of the budgetary authority along with the Council.

Now, there are two types of expenditures: the compulsory expenditures (CE) and the non-compulsory expenditures (NCE). Until the Lisbon Treaty, the process related to the CE did not change: the Council adopted them. The CE were set by both the Treaties and the subsequent legal acts adopted for their implementation (the expenditures of the Common Agricultural Policy for instance result from a policy set by the Treaties, so they are compulsory). Regarding the NCE, the Parliament could give a first opinion to the Council, which could then differ and send it back to the Parliament and hence force the decision (within the limits of its envelope that is). However, this all changed with the enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty: the Parliament co-holds the budgetary power since the Council can no longer adopt a budget without the consent of the Parliament, may it be for CE or NCE.

When it comes to the implementation of the budget, the Parliament had no part at all before 1975, only the Commission and the European Court of Auditors did (in order to control the good management of the budget). This changed after that year for the Parliament was given the power to intervene and give a discharge to the Commission regarding the budget implementation. This discharge bears a political meaning because it means that the Parliament basically has to approve the Commission’s work, as well as a legal meaning because the Parliament’s decision is needed to close the accounts. This power of the Parliament is real, and we actually witnessed it for the year being, when the Parliament did not agree with the budget that it was presented with and forced the Commission to make significant modifications, especially regarding the EU competitiveness policies.

Now let’s jump to a harder part – yes, what we said about the budget was a piece of cake compared to what is coming – namely the legislative role of the Parliament. As we said in our first article about the Parliament, it does not hold the same powers as a national Parliament: it does not have the initiative power (which solely belongs to the Commission) nor does it own the power of decision on its own (it is shared with the Council). The Parliament can only give opinions that have no real legal value. What is the point you may think? I know, knowing it is as useful as knowing that pteronophobia is the fear of being tickled by feathers or that every time you lick a stamp you consume 1/10 of a calorie – no one really understands why these facts exist, but knowing it makes you interesting, so let’s see how these opinions work!

The initial legal consultation procedure set by the Treaties bears both a compulsory and an optional component. It is mandatory when it is enshrined in the treaties. If the Parliament’s opinion has not been asked for, it can go to the Court of Justice and ask for the annulment of the act. The optional consultation is valid in any other case (that is those not imposed by the treaties), it is voluntary and the Court of Justice cannot be consulted. The modalities within the Parliament regarding a compulsory consultation procedure are set by the treaties as well, and there are four main stages: the Commission’s proposal is sent to the President of the Parliament, which then transmits the proposal to the competent parliamentary commission that can suggest modifications. The Parliament then reviews the report of its parliamentary commission during a plenary session and votes: either it approves the initial proposal or it rejects it, or else it accepts the amendments of the parliamentary commission. Fourth step: the President of the Parliament hands over the proposal in the version adopted by the Parliament to the Council. Following the Parliament’s opinions is not binding for the Commission and the Council, but do keep in mind that the Parliament’s opinions have a certain political influence on the European Commission since it is under official political control by the Parliament through the threat of a motion of no-confidence. Finally, please note that the Commission and the Council have committed themselves to filling-in the Parliament on their decision to follow or not its opinions.

The concertation procedure aims at seeking an agreement between the Parliament and the Council. This does not appear in the treaties but in an inter-institutional declaration between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission dating back from 1975 that applies to the “Community acts of general application which have appreciable financial implications”. The process is triggered as soon as the Parliament and the Council ask for its opening: the Council adopts a common orientation stating whether it is in compliance with the parliamentary opinion. If it is, the Council pronounces the irrevocable adoption of the act. In case it is not, a concertation takes place within a concertation committee gathering representatives from the Parliament and members of the Council. They have three months to come to an understanding. If no understanding is met, the Council can adopt the act, which makes it very difficult for an agreement to be found since the Council knows it will always have the last word. This whole procedure is hence particularly useless and time-consuming for no reason. Bureaucracy, yay! It now applies to very few matters, such as the internal market exemptions and competition law.

The cooperation procedure was the longest and most complex one, but it disappeared with the Lisbon Treaty. You may think it is a waste of time talking about it, and you are absolutely right, but it shows how preposterous some EU-rules can be. You think the way the EU works nowadays could not be sillier? Well, think twice! This so-called cooperation procedure appeared with the European Single Act and granted a double reading system to the Parliament that enabled it to have “more influence” by giving two opinions – one opinion, although pretty useless as we saw, was not enough uselessness, so a double amount of uselessness was necessary. At the beginning, it applied to pretty much all fields and matters, but the Amsterdam Treaty turned it into the concertation procedure, except for the Economic and Monetary Union. The first step was the Commission making a proposal, and the second was the Parliament giving its opinion in first reading and without any delay. The third phase was the Council reviewing the Commission’s proposal in first reading and adopting a common position by unanimous vote in case it wanted to modify the proposal and by qualified majority if it did not touch it. The Council then submitted the proposal to the Parliament, which then gave its stance in second reading within a three-month period of time. Now it gets even trickier: first hypothesis, either the Parliament approved the common position, or it abstained deciding (which however was worth an approval, so what was the point abstaining), or else it adopted amendments. If it approved or abstained (which was the same), then the Council could adopt the act by qualified majority or unanimous vote depending on the situation. If amendments were adopted by the Parliament in second reading, the Commission had to review its proposal within a month: either it rejected the amendments made by the Parliament and the Council could still adopt the text unanimously, or it took them into consideration so that the Council could adopt it by qualified majority, or else it withdrew the text and the Council could not help it. Second hypothesis (yes all that we just saw was only the first hypothesis): in case the Parliament completely rejected the common position of the Council, the latter could still adopt the text unanimously (nothing anti-democratic about that, no time wasted either). The good news about this procedure is that it only applies to a limited number of cases, such as economic and monetary policies. So, happy you know how it used to work? The good news is that if you made it that far into getting to know the Parliament, please go on – your suffering is almost over.

The co-decision procedure, which was renamed as ordinary legislative procedure by the Lisbon Treaty to give it a legal meaning (the other procedures are called “special procedures”), was created by the Maastricht Treaty and modified by the Amsterdam Treaty. It simply means that the European Parliament shares the power of decision with the Council. A novelty was introduced in the Parliament’s second reading: a mediation committee has to be put together to seek an understanding within six weeks. If there is no final agreement, the proposal is rejected for good. This is the most common procedure and it applies to about 80 fields (transportation, energy, immigration, environment, etc.). It basically means that neither institution can adopt legislation without the other’s assent in those fields.

Finally, in the assent procedure (renamed consent procedure by the Treaty of Lisbon, words are important), the Parliament can give its opinion only once about an act project given by the Council. The lack of assent prevents the adoption of the text. This applies to matters such as the membership of new States, the withdrawal of a Member State (um um Brexit), the decisions on European elections, discrimination, etc.

Please also note that, although it does not have an initiative power since it cannot propose a law, it can still ask the Commission to submit a proposal for law to the Council. When the Parliament is presented with the annual work program of the Commission, it can also say which laws it would like to see introduced in priority. It is not much, but it is a start. One example is the latest idea that the Parliament has had: it wants to give away a free Interrail pass to every teenager on his 18th birthday (we will write a special article about that awful idea soon), and it will soon ask the Commission to present  a law about it.

Finally, let’s move on to the role of the Parliament regarding Foreign Affairs. Its involvement comes in the shape of a consultation at a given time. This procedure is called the Luns 1 procedure (after the name of the President at the time in 1964) and means that the Parliament can ask for a debate with the Commission or an appointment with the Council prior to an agreement. The other institutions must keep the Parliament updated on the agreements status through the parliamentary commissions. A second progress was introduced by the European Single Act: the conclusion of certain partnership agreements is subject to the Parliament’s approval when it comes to economic and trade foreign affairs. This procedure is called the Luns 2 procedure. Thanks to the Maastricht Treaty, some further changes have been adopted through article 218: the Parliament’s approval is necessary for all partnership agreements.

Now as you can see, the attributions of the Parliament are not easy to understand, but the good news is that they tend to develop – at a slow pace. However, we can still regret that most of its powers are either not of much use or that when it has real powers, it rarely uses them. When we read the newspapers, we see the Commission everywhere, but we do not see the Parliament that much. When we see corruption and incompetence cases within the Commission, we blame the Commission and the Commissioners for being corrupt and incompetent, but what about the Parliament? It has the power to destitute the Commission and it never does, it has the power to refuse a Commissioner and a President before they are appointed and it never does, making it almost equally responsible as “partner in crime”. The Barroso Commission and the Juncker Commission have not done anything to help the citizens and to save the EU, they have made the situation worse and worse, we know it, the Parliament knows it, but it is too afraid to lose its privileges. Its role is to represent the citizens and protect them, but we have the impression that it mostly protects the EU-functionaries and elites, which includes the Commissioners and the MEPs themselves. After all, they are also citizens who need protection to maintain their social status, right?

The EU-institutions: the European Parliament (Part I)

Today we will resume the analysis of the EU-institutions. After the Council of the EU and the EU-Commission, the third VIP of the EU-institutions is the European Parliament. Unlike these two other babies, the Parliament’s seat is located in Strasburg, making it a bit more “aloof” from the usual European madness – although some of its organs are in Brussels and Luxemburg and most of the work is done in Brussels. It represents the interests of the peoples of the Member States. The President is elected for two years and a half, renewable once: currently, the German Martin Schulze (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats S&D) is the President. However, let’s be clear: the Parliament does not hold the same powers as a national Parliament as it does not strictly own the legislative power.

The European Parliament is a big piece in the EU panorama, and since it represents the citizens we reckon it deserves a significant space in our series – at least more than it has in the reality. We will hence divide its situation into two articles: this one will focus on its structure, organization and functioning, while the next one will deal with its attributions.

Originally, the European Parliament was the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) when the ECSC was created. It was a very different organ than it is now of course, and this Assembly was composed of delegates that the national Parliaments designated within them or that were directly elected. A legal act from 1976, the “act concerning the election of the representatives of the Assembly by direct universal suffrage”, established that the principle of the single vote would be the election system in place in every country, and that votes would be organized everywhere during the same period of time. In addition, it was decided that every EU-citizen residing in a State of which he is not a citizen could legally vote and be eligible in the State in which he resides. So, if you are a German living in Finland, you can vote there and even be eligible. How cool is that, Germany now finally has a chance to rule the world! However, finding an agreement regarding the number of representatives from each State was slightly more problematic – and still is. Nowadays, there are 751 Members, as set out by the Lisbon Treaty (Germany having 96 and Malta 6), but following the effective Brexit the number and distribution of MEPs per country will change – the UK currently has 73 MEPs that will need to be divided into 27 Member States following precise proportionality rules: headache in sight! Since 2003, there are two systems in place to elect the Eurodeputies: either within the framework of regional constituencies (this is the case in France for instance), or within the framework of national constituencies (Spain, Denmark, etc.). In a regional constituency system, the allocation depends on the total population of each constituency. In any case, the proportional representation is the voting system in place in every Member State.

The MEPs status is determined by the same legal document from 1976, but the measures that it contains either refer to the treaties or to application measures of treaties that have never been adopted, or else to national legislations. In other words: it is not of much help. It does, however, clarify the length of the term of a MEP, which is of five years, along with a bunch of other stuffs like the possibility to cumulate European and national jobs, the incompatibility of a MEP job with a national government or EU-institution job, the privilege of the non-accountability (no judicial proceedings nor detention measures during the term), the fixing of financial allowances (until 2009 those allowances were set out by the States, but there were so many disparities and abuses that it has been decided to grant all of them around €8.000/month). If you multiply this amount by 751 MEPs, that is a great deal of money – too much money actually when you know the implication and the usefulness of some of them within the EU-processes. And here is the problem: MEPs receive this allowance as long as they sit in half of the sessions – if they do not, they still get an allowance but officially with lesser amounts. However, MEPs showing up at less than half of the sessions is something that has already happened in the past, and they have never been sanctioned. Also, they are each entitled to a full-time assistant of course, along with some other benefits like €4.300/month for “general fees”, €304/day when there is a session in Strasburg (around four days a month) and €22.000/month (yes, you did read correctly) to pay for their assistants, personal staff, trainees and other Minions that will happily do all the work: that is around €8.000+€4.300+€304*4+€22.000=€35.516/month . To sum up, they can do half of the job they are paid for and still receive at least €34.300/month (you just need to take away the Strasburg sessions days). Personally, I am not happy with that, and I reckon that a reform is needed and that the costs need to be reduced and proportional to the efforts they put in. You do not show up at work? Then you do not get paid and get fired, just like anybody else in the real world. Occasionally, they even have the guts to complain, saying that people in Strasburg are not nice, or that going to Strasburg four days a month when you live in Brussels is not convenient, which is why they skip the sessions. Poor them…

Regarding its functioning, the European Parliament adopts its very own regulations and rules following every EU-enlargement. The President has a significant role: he chairs the plenary sessions and represents the Parliament to other EU-institutions and to international organizations. Martin Schulze, the current President, is a nice person. He speaks a bunch of languages, is a keen Europhile, smiling, and bonus: he is not reluctant to shaking hands with you even though you are not a “big fish”, so for that particular reason I like him – now that shows how little they have to do to be different from these Brussels high officials.

The Bureau of the Parliament holds powers related to the finances of the Parliament: it deals with the financing of the political groups and elaborates the preliminary draft estimates of the Parliament’s expenditure. The Bureau is made up of the President of the Parliament, the Vice-President, and Quaestors (experts owning a consultative role).

The Conference of Presidents brings together the President of the Parliament and the presidents of the political groups. It was given functions regarding the organization of the European Parliament (timetable, sitting agendas).

The Committees are divided into two groups: the permanent Committees and the temporal Committees. There are 20 permanent ones (Foreign Affairs, budget, etc.), which have a double role: preparing the role of the European Parliament for the plenary sessions and maintaining relations with the European Commission and the EU-Council in-between the plenary sessions. They are, in other words, the equivalent of the COREPER of the EU-Council (for more information see note “The EU-institutions: the Council of the European Union”) and the working groups of the European Commission (for more information please refer to article “The EU-institutions: the European Commission” from June, 14th 2016). As regards to the temporary Committees, they result from the Maastricht Treaty, and they investigate the misimplementations and the violations allegations to the laws of the EU. They are hence created occasionally upon request of at least one quarter of the Member States (seven currently). They cannot, however, be created for just any matter, and they meet their end when they deliver the reports to the European Parliament – thanks to which the Parliament can then take legal actions.

Now let’s jump to the political groups within the Parliament. MEPs do not have to necessarily belong to a political group, but most do because let’s face it: it provides MEPs with some very convenient benefits. Indeed, each group is granted premises, staff, a number of seats in the permanent Committees, a speaking time, the possibility to ask verbal questions to the Parliament, the possibility to deposit a motion of censure, substantial financial benefits, etc. Now to make up a political group requires little: the minimum number of MEPs is 25 coming from at least a quarter of the number of Member States. There are now eight political groups: two main ones (the Group of the European People’s Party is the main right-wing party, and there is also the main left-wing Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats), and six smaller ones, amongst which the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group (created in June 2015). The MEPs that do not belong to any political group do not enjoy these benefits, and they are known as non-attached Members. Finally, it is worth adding that a political group meets two or three days ahead of each plenary session to agree on a strategy.

The frequency of the sessions is not fixed. Strictly, there is only one annual session, which usually takes place the second Tuesday of March. This session has the particularity to never close (hence the “annual session”), meaning that the Parliament sits in various sessions within the framework of this session (four days a month in Strasburg, and two days in Brussels, except in August). It also sits after the election of the MEPs – that is every five years. It can also sit in an extraordinary session upon request of a majority of the Member States, the EU-Council or the European Commission. The sessions are public unless stipulated otherwise. The plenary sessions are held in Strasburg, the parliamentary Committees are in Brussels and the General Secretariat is in Luxemburg – confuzzling, isn’t it? Three locations obviously bring unnecessary costs, as well as unnecessary complications. The voting systems used are the freehand vote, the roll-call vote, the electronic vote or the ballot paper. For a vote to be effective, the absolute majority is needed. About 3600 permanent staff work for the Parliament and are divided into 12 Directorates-General, which together make up for the Secretariat.

Dear Brexiters, dear EU-sceptics (part II)

This article is the follow-up of “Dear Brexiters, dear EU-sceptics (part I)” from June, 27th 2016. This will also be the last one of our series on the Brexit, because there are many more important things to talk about – even though I give you that it still comes as a schock for many of us. We have heard many random things saying that the Brexit won’t happen for various reasons and that we should keep believing the UK will stay, but let’s cut to the chase: it won’t, and we need to stop hoping for something that just won’t happen. If anything, that would just be anti-democratic, and the lack of democracy basically is one of the major problems nowadays.

If we think globally: who in the world will benefit from the Brexit? The answer seems clear: everyone, especially China, Russia and the USA. Why? Because they were already the most powerful countries. The EU as a whole was not even a match for them in terms of global influence, and without the UK it loses quite some weight. Eventually I hope the EU will get stronger if it equips itself with a real common diplomacy – the UK was a strong opponent to this, so now it might actually be possible. The Brexit in that respect is a chance for the EU to play a bigger role on the international stage, and as a consequence to represent an alternative to the USA, China and Russia.

For the UK, however, it will be very hard to play a significant role in our globalized world. It will most likely follow the American diplomacy, but it seems unlikely that it will be of any weight on the international scene. It will try, because its ambitions have always been huge, but with the current geopolitics I do not see how it could regain its former glory. Colonization and wars are no options anymore.

As far as diplomacy is concerned, I think it was a pretty bad and stupid move to vote out of the EU. It is literally chaos in the Middle East, terrorism strikes on EU-soil and you pull out of a bloc because you think that the EU-laws on immigration are responsible for the flow of undocumented immigrants, and that among this illegal immigration terrorists hide? This is just nonsense, you won’t be able to stop illegal immigration: you will only have succeeded in being left alone in the war against terrorism. The EU would have been the solution, had it taken care of the problem satisfactorily. But let me remind you Brits that your government contributed to the EU not taking any good decision immigration wise: these laws and deals did not just magically appear, they came from our governments.

Economically, the EU will probably make your life harder than it really needs to be. The UK might rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), just like it was a part before joining the EU, in order to still be a part of the European Economic Area (EEA), with all the benefits that this status grants to its members. However, this is when things could get complicated: this status also implies obligations, which are to respect the “four freedoms” that are the free movement of goods, services, capitals and… people. The latter will probably be a problem, because immigration is one of the main reasons why the UK decided to leave the EU. There is absolutely no way that the EU bends over and lets the UK assume some obligations and leave others aside. The solution will probably be this one: the UK will have to accept the free movement of persons, but will try to cut its social aids to the immigrants as much as possible. Also, just like Norway and Switzerland, it will have to contribute to some extent to the budget in order to keep the EEA running. The UK will probably have to compromise a lot more than the EU, which as said before will be in a position of strength because of its size. But this is just theoretical, maybe the UK won’t rejoin the EFTA. However, I am confident that the UK’s economic links to the EU will still be strong, but I highly doubt they will be as strong as when it was still an EU-country, because the EU Member States will give priority to other EU-countries, meaning the UK will have to find new allies to fill the loss of income – and Latin America and the Caribbean seems like a fair bet.

There is also a huge political domestic risk for the UK to be dislocated. The Commonwealth is not really worth anything anymore, and the UK is actually made up of four “countries”, two of which (Scotland and Northern Ireland) voted in favor of staying in the EU. There were already claims in these countries to leave the UK (Scotland had organized a referendum on staying in the UK in 2014, and the remaining camp had won by 55.3%, partly because the UK was still part of the EU). It does not seem so unlikely now that the UK could lose Scotland and Northern Ireland (which is already talking about reuniting with Ireland) and be left with only England and Wales. That would not be a united kingdom anymore, so there is a risk that the UK as such ceases to exist on the long-term and becomes even smaller. Leaving the EU was a really bad move in terms of British integrity preservation.

In addition, I would like to say a word to all Brits that voted for a Bremain, especially the young ones. We appreciate you wanting to stay in the EU. I think it is a shame that you will be deprived of some of your future international perspectives within the EU. Regarding the student mobility program Erasmus that has proved – and still does – very helpful to create bonds between young people(s) all over Europe and gave job opportunities to thousands and thousands of young Brits, do not worry: if our leaders are clever enough, you will still be associated to Erasmus to some extent – Great Britain will just have to pay for the scholarships because the EU won’t. Anyway, knowing that your parents and grandparents are responsible for the Brexit must be very hard. This is not like voting for a Prime Minister, knowing that its term will end in five years: leaving the EU is a permanent decision and you have been deprived of it by people who will be dead in those five years for some of them, leaving you wake up bitter in ten years still out of the EU. And for that, I can’t think of any solution. Unfortunately, this is the problem with permanent decisions: they are permanent.

Finally and most importantly maybe, the UK said no to a project that is failing, with which it does not agree. I usually defend the EU, saying that it is by nature a reflection of what the Member States are, and I stick to my opinion. The EU is not the real problem, the Member States are, and this vote will not change the fact that the UK is a part of the real problem – just like every single one of the 27 other Member States. That said, the EU, because its functionaries officially work for the EU and not for the Member States, also has its share of responsibility. The EU needs reforms and a new Treaty; it needs people who have strong opinions and a vision above all, who are committed to advancing, not bureaucrats who are merely following orders from other bureaucrats that are incompetent and sometimes corrupt. Federica Mogherini (Head of the European diplomacy) has a limited English and no experience regarding diplomacy, Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the European Commission) has been involved in the LuxLeaks corruption scandal and arrives drunk to meetings, and the Commissioners (that no one actually knows and who are suggested by the Member States themselves) are sometimes corrupt or completely out of place (for more information see article “The EU-institutions: the European Commission” from June, 14th 2016). A long due change is urgently needed, because we are heading straight to the wall.

The political and economic “elite” that gets these high-profile jobs and insane piles of cash (that we EU tax payers partly give them) think only of its own interests: they come straight from business schools, political institutes, and have absolutely no clue whatsoever about what they are doing and no vision or ideas regarding the EU. Businessmen decide our diplomacy and design our humanitarian aid programs, politicians are on top of the chain when it comes to wealth distribution and justice, etc. I might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the picture. That just cannot be. Maybe that needs to stop, maybe we need people who are passionate about their work and have an actual field of expertise, maybe the most important EU-leaders should be directly elected by the peoples, and maybe some of the current ones should seriously consider resigning. David Cameron still had the guts to quit – and I am far from being a fan of the man. Blaming it all on Great Britain and its people without even considering for a second that the EU may also be responsible for this mess is a proof that something is wrong, and not realizing it is a proof of a worrying stupidity.

Having ideas and opinions nowadays is a bad thing. Once on Twitter, I replied to a question of an EU-institution on how to improve development cooperation, saying that we need European functionaries who can speak the language of the country they are based in when they work in EU-Delegations, especially when this country speaks a language that also exists within the EU. Well, I was told it was impossible and called an idealistic straight away (for more information, see note “Citoyens Européens, réveillez-vous” from May, 9th 2016). That example sums it up: there is a serious lack of logic, ambition and result-driving within the EU, because this was fairly realistic and straight forward. The EU belongs to the citizens: it is time to realize that. Time for a change.

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.

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.