Written by Nicole Zandi
Since the European Parliament elections in May and the new Commission taking office in November; an atmosphere of change in the EU institutions has highlighted 2014 as an important year. So far we have seen widespread aspirations to create a more balanced, fairer and transparent EU, which is perhaps a good hint of what we can expect in the coming years.
A balanced EU: Women wanted
In May, EU citizens took to the ballot boxes to cast their votes for a total of 751 representatives. These new MEPs, including 277 women, had an average age of 53, ranging from a 92 year-old Greek, to a 26 year-old Dane. Less traditional parties also gained in popularity this year, leading to more non-attached Members than in previous terms, while the EPP and S&D groups are slightly less dominant than in the past.
Once in office, the MEPs voted in Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President and grilled his Commissioners-designate, which provided a good example of the parliament’s increasing assertiveness. After a campaign to encourage a more representative Commission, in the end nine of the appointed Commissioners are women.
A fairer EU: It’s the economy stupid
Revising the national contributions to the EU budget attracted a lot of media attention and upset a few politicians on the way. After all, who likes being given a multi-million euro bill? And what went wrong in the first place? Each Member State’s contribution is based on their gross national income, so naturally countries with bigger economies pay more. A revision of the method for calculating GNI revealed that nine countries had paid too little, while others had paid too much. While the latter will pay less, the nine other countries will have to make up the difference, but have brokered a deal to gain more time to pay.
The EU budget is paid for with the EU’s ‘own resources’, of which the national contributions have come to play a big part. Overall, the budget is used to fund projects across the Union and beyond as well as running the EU institutions. Exactly how the money is used is decided by the Parliament and the Council, the two arms of the EU’s budgetary authority, following an initial proposal by the Commission. This year, the two institutions failed to come to an agreement before the 17 November deadline, so unless a last-minute agreement can be found before the December plenary session, based on the Commission’s revised proposal, the system of ‘provisional twelfths’ (continuing with the figures of the 2014 budget) will have to be used until agreement can be reached. This may be a little frustrating for President Juncker, who is keen to get underway with his 10-point action plan, which, as expected, focuses heavily on boosting the economy, including: jobs, growth and investment, and the digital single market.
A transparent EU: Trimming the fat
Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the Commission, has set out his priority to focus on the ‘big things’ in a bid to cut back on legislation. This is in keeping with the Commission’s move to reduce the administrative burden as suggested in a report made by the advisory Stoiber Group. The EU is also reviewing the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), with a view to creating a stronger democratic response to social aspects of the policy-making process.
President Juncker is also encouraging better recording of meetings between MEPs, Commissioners or their staff, and lobbyists, to make these interactions as transparent as possible. A new EU Transparency Register will be introduced in January 2015. Although this will still be a voluntary system, Juncker seeks to implement a mandatory system by 2016, a move welcomed by MEPs. In the meantime, the Commission will publish information on all meetings between lobbyists and Commissioners, members of their cabinets and Directors-General.