Many Europeans are hoping that the (presumed) victory of Francois Hollande in Sunday’s presidential election in France will be the start of a new, less austerity-obsessed approach to Europe’s current crisis. But change in the Elysee will not address an equally important development in recent years — the declining role of community institutions in favour of intergovernmental decision-making dominated by a de facto directoire of big states. (For discussion of this challenge, see “The worrying inevitability of intergovernmentalism” by Olaf Cramme, director of the Policy Network.)
The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty in place of the failed Constitutional Treaty has provided a firm basis in EU law for what had previously been a behavioural development, argues Nicole Scicluna in the May 2012 issue of JCMS. Some member states are now reportedly considering the creation of a ‘super president’ merging the roles of the Commission president with those of the newly-created Council president, undoubtedly to the advantage of the Council. This trend is worrying from an Irish perspective because the community method of decision-making, including the autonomy of the Commission and Parliament, has always been seen as a guarantee that small states’ interests would not be overlooked.
But the alternative to intergovernmentalist directoires cannot be a simple re-empowerment of the Commission and Parliament, which both suffer in their own ways from a serious lack of democratic accountability. Unless the community institutions and the Council are made more democratically accountable, European publics will rightfully demand that their national governments assert themselves ever more forcefully at the European level, with all the negative consequences this would entail for Europe in general and small states in particular.