The self-satisfaction with which Martin Selmayr evaluates the record of the “Job” of the Juncker Commission lacks the modicum of restraint that the current “State of the Union” calls for.
Let us acknowledge the volume of actions undertaken and completed by the Commission whose number deserves unequivocally to join countless other pointless statistics that adorn the Guinness Book of Records! On the eve of the European elections it is difficult to find an elector able to identify a single measure that he feels in conscious has actually affected his life over the last five years (with the possible exception of the end of roaming charges in 2017).
On the positive side, one must mention the competence with which the Commission (and the task force headed by Michel Barnier) has discharged its “Brexit” negotiating mandate, even if the finalisation of an agreement remains in the hands of the European Council and Parliament. The squabbles leading to the UK’s participation in the parliamentary elections are but a foretaste of dysfunctions that are bound to plague the European institutions, leaving a burdensome heritage to the incoming Commission.
But it is rather in relation to President Juncker’s declared ambitions in 2014 that results should be judged: he postulated that this was “the Commission of the last chance” and that “his” Commission would be “more political”.
Let us credit the Commission with implementing an embryonic “EU defence policy” which marks a welcome first step in this sensitive field. It is, however, regrettable, considering its main focus is at this stage on procurement, that the Commission was unable to protect EU interests in the renewal of the fleets of fighter-bombers by several Member States. Recent progress has also been initiated aiming at reinforcing “Frontex” but the squeamishness of Member States impairs heavily progress in the vexed question of immigration despite the efforts of the Commission.
On the debit side one should note the significant inroads made by nationalist-populist parties during the legislature; it is therefore fair to assume that this “last chance” has not been exploited adequately and that one is now objectively confronted with the choices that will shape the future of the Union. The outgoing Commission has not contributed significantly to the preparation and orientation of these inescapable changes which will necessarily require a long differed revision of the Treaties.
The aggravation of cleavages and fractures within European society both within and among Member States, are harbingers of a fragmentation and re-composition of the political landscape which are bound to have repercussions in building majorities within the future European Parliament. The Commission (whose powers are limited in this area) has not foreseen these developments – anymore than the governments of Member States – and has failed to draw the attention of public opinion on the numerous benefits attributable to the Union: the unilateral boisterous interventions of Putin and Trump on the world scene, as well as the Brexit saga all offered many opportunities to promote the added value of the EU in terms of protection and security of its citizens and its obvious pertinence in managing questions relating to the environment, immigration, foreign and commercial policies, energy markets, digitalization, etc.
There has also been little progress in the completion of EMU, demonstrating, once again, the incapacity of moving ahead on this centrepiece of the Community’s architecture, unless forced to act under duress! Other initiatives, announced with great fanfare, such as the Capital Market’s Union or the Juncker Investment Plan have suffered from initial conceptual flaws, limiting the achievements of the first to an update of the 2002 “Financial Services Action Plan” and to mainly a redeployment of existing resources for the second.
In summary, the record of the Juncker Commission reflects precisely what the European Council “authorized” it to undertake, thereby reinforcing its “administrative” character to the detriment of its “political” ambitions. The example of the rejection of the Siemens-Alsthom merger is emblematic in this regard by which a purely “technical/administrative” approach eclipsed any “politico-strategic” thought in dealing with the matter.
If the results of the EP elections confirm the progress of the Eurosceptic camp and the fragmentation of the political landscape, the new Commission could find itself in a position that severely limits its capacity to act. The paralysis of the European institutions – which is liable to last at least until the final resolution of Brexit – will only deepen the cleavage between winners and losers of the profound changes that pervade our societies; it will further delay – perhaps irretrievably – the implementation of the policies needed to remedy the situation and further accentuate the EU’s dependence on the USA and China.
In conclusion, while it would be profoundly unjust to tar the Juncker Commission with the responsibility for the degradation of the geopolitical relationships between the major powers or the resurgence of ideologies apt to foster devastating conflicts in the future, one cannot, nevertheless, judge its record to have reached the goals it had set five years ago or fulfilled the hopes that it generated.