The designation of the European Commission: what lessons for France?
The European Parliament has chosen not to accept the appointment of Sylvie Goulard as European Commissioner, thus provoking a lively debate in our country and even a form of “misunderstanding”. Beyond the circumstantial reasons for this non-appointment, it is important to draw all the lessons from it in order to promote a more harmonious articulation between national and European political practices: the aim here is to better understand and accept the differences between France and Europe in terms of parliamentary culture, coalition culture and ethical standards.
1 – European parliamentarians exercise important decision-making prerogatives
The increase in turnout in the European elections in our country and in the EU probably reflects a growing awareness of the importance of the decision-making prerogatives exercised by the Strasbourg Parliament, both in terms of legislation and control. The revocation of Sylvie Goulard’s candidacy can only confirm this to them and to all our political leaders.
This decision is the result of a very sophisticated parliamentary control, which could be applied at national level to assess the competence and profile of the proposed Ministers. This test is based on a series of written questions and a hearing – the exercise can be repeated if the candidate has not passed the test. The prospective candidate must convince 2/3 of the MEPs who auditioned him/her, then only half of them when a second chance is offered. It is at the end of this process that a Commissioner-designate may be challenged or have the format and content of his portfolio redrawn.
This is not the first time that the European Parliament has obtained such changes in the composition of the Commission, even if it is the first time that this has happened to a Commissioner appointed by France. Since our country cannot be treated differently from the others, it is up to us to make all the necessary efforts to understand and adapt in order to better understand the importance of the European Parliament – which contrasts with the importance sometimes accorded to our national Parliament in a Fifth Republic dominated by presidential primacy.
2 – European decisions are the result of compromises between multiple political forces
As with every EU decision, the approval of candidates nominated to chair or be part of the European Commission is the result of compromises patiently negotiated between a multitude of actors, none of whom can claim to impose their leadership. These compromises are adopted following diplomatic (West-East-North-North-South etc.), partisan (centre, left, right, green etc.) and inter-institutional power relations (in particular marked by the need for an agreement between the Council and the European Parliament).
The French institutional system is based on a much more “majority” culture and practice and on a voting discipline mechanically acquired by those who govern us. It is not clear that it best prepares our politicians for the complexity and subtlety of the balances to be achieved in Brussels and Strasbourg, unlike most of their counterparts, who most often govern with the support of larger or smaller coalitions.
It would be all the more useful for France to get in line with EU time on this register since the partisan composition of the European Parliament is now particularly pluralistic, and therefore the majorities to be found there are more uncertain and unstable than ever.
3 – The EU is the bearer of ethical standards that must be applied uniformly
The negative vote against Sylvie Goulard stems from several complementary motivations, at once partisan, institutional, diplomatic, personal, etc. Since her undeniable expertise and rich experience could not justify it, it was essentially for ethical reasons that her application was rejected.
Even if nothing illegal was formally reproached to her, it seemed de facto incomprehensible to many European parliamentarians that someone who could not be a Minister in Paris could be a Commissioner in Brussels. This “double standard” was all the more surprising as two other candidates from Central Europe had just been rejected on the grounds of alleged conflicts of interest.
In this context, there is no doubt that the next candidates nominated by France to be part of the European Commission should be chosen on the basis of their great qualities but also because they will be unassailable in the ethical register.
The fact that Sylvie Goulard has not been appointed will not, of course, prevent the new Member of the Commission proposed by the French authorities from taking up his duties, having learned the lessons from this regrettable episode. It would also be equally beneficial if everyone could reflect on the triple lesson that emerges from it, in order to strengthen our country’s influence at EU level while improving the readability of the EU’s functioning in the eyes of our fellow citizens.
With Olivier Mousson, Secretary general of the Mouvement Européen – France