Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen has had a rant that too many senior officials in the European Commission are too powerful, and want to take decisions themselves rather than letting the Commissioners know what’s going on – see this article from EUObserver. Well, for anyone that’s ever had any dealings with the Commission, you could argue that this is barely news-worthy. If you have people who have wielded power for ages in high positions in DGs, it’s no wonder that they know more than the Commissioner does. It could especially be argued that this is the case for Verheugen, never someone who has given the most coherent public statements about what he wants the EU to do (with the exception of enlargement / Turkey).
[Update – 10.10.06]
Commission officials have now had a whinge back at Verheugen. Commission trade union FFPE said that Mr Verheugen should either apologise for his remarks or resign:
If the boss of an enterprise like Coca-Cola blamed a lack of sales on his workers he would either have to apologise immediately or resign
So said Jean-Louis Blanc, the FFPE president, according to EUObserver. What a load of rubbish. The difficulty is that in Coca Cola, the Chief Executive would have direct responsibility for staffing and the ability to sack people. Commission officials are basically impossible to move, and Verheugen has no direct HR control.
But rather than having a rant, maybe Verheugen (and Jean-Louis Blanc too) could reflect a little on what to do about the situation. Is the promotion system right within the Commission? Do people stay too long in the same jobs? Has the block on recruitment in recent years not just further strengthened the position of the more elderly bureaucrats? Further, he might look at the issue of Commission portfolios – might the threat of a reshuffle of Commissioners not spice things up a bit? Or maybe better training for Commissioners and Commission staff to allow them to better be able to communicate? Or more politically appointed people within the Commission that could have more ways to influence policy? Better scrutiny from the European Parliament?
There are many, many ways the Commission’s structures could be improved, yet Verheugen just seemed to have a whinge about the status quo. He has a position of influence to try to make some of these changes happen, yet until he does that I have no sympathy for him.
Check out today’s BILD-Zeitung here
Mr. V. seems to be in trouble…
To broaden the point, this is what happens in bureaucracies/governments that are unaccountable (similar points apply to the NHS, for example). The culture of lack of accountability, arrogant exercise of power and never really having to explain to anyone outside why you are doing something, pervades the Commission, and so it’s hardly surprising that it applies to officials as well as Commissioners. I would, for example, find it difficult to make the argument for why decisions should be taken by Commissioners rather than officials – it’s not as if they have any greater legitimacy than officials do to take decisions, and as you say Jon, at least the directors-general know what they are talking about.
I think we know what the solution is…
Thanks for saying this for me Jeremy! 🙂
There are also some bureaucracies located mainly in SW1, London that the same could also be said for, but I can’t sail too close to the wind in this blog.