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The European Chief Prosecutor saga, the euro area saga

Published at: 05-04-2019

Posted on: April 5th, 2019 by RaduC No Comments

The saga of appointing a European Chief Prosecutor goes on, but the appointment process seems to have hit a wall. Neither the European Parliament, nor the Council of the EU is willing to give up on their candidate. The two institutions are the two European co-legislators whose work is underpinned by the principle of co-decision and common accord. (whenever that is possible…)

The two bodies have equal decision-making powers, despite the fact that the Parliament is the result of democratic EU-wide elections, whereas the Council represent the executive governments of each Member State. This is a construct that reflects the national – European ambivalence so pervasive in the way the EU is governed. A pervasiveness which on quite few occasions led to confusion or stalemate.

The appointment of the Chief Prosecutor is yet another example that reinforces this idea. The fact that one of the candidates is Romanian has no bearing on this discussion. Let us leave this aside for the moment and focus on the process per se.

On the one hand we had an expert selection panel which came up with a ranking of shortlisted candidates after having interviewed them. Later the ambassadors of the 22 countries participating in the European Public Prosecutor`s Office voted on the list and established another ranking without, and that is important, having interviewed the candidates. They did so solely on the basis of the instructions received from the governments that they represent. And finally, the two EU Parliament standing committees, LIBE and CONT, held their own vote resulting in another ranking, similar to that of the expert selection panel and again after having interviewed  the candidates.

This confusing mix and match of institutions and authorities which claim the right to decide are, in my opinion oblivious of two essential facts. Firstly, the position is a purely technical one where professional skills and experience prevail. Secondly, he or she will represent a European institution. Enough reasons to conclude that the opinions which should really matter on this issue are those of the expert selection panel and the European Parliament.

Governments` involvement in the procedure shows the equivocal relationships that Member States choose to maintain within the Union. We want a stronger EU, all the while allowing Member States governments to muzzle the European Parliament`s opinions. The European vs national conundrum is kept and sustained by these ambiguous procedures which require endless negotiations between Member States` representatives and the European Parliament. In the event that the European Council, i.e. the governments, manages to push through its candidate, a perfectly legitimate question emerges: why voting a European Parliament? What is the democratic significance of that procedure?

While the majorities in the Parliament are formed based rather on common political views and less on nationality, we may suspect that in the EU Council “size matters”. In other words, Europe`s great powers are capable to carry out lobbying meant to support their candidates even if that risks throwing a spanner in the works of the decision-making mechanism. If one of the final candidates had not been French, but say Maltese, would the Council have gone out of its way to push his own candidate risking to have the procedure postponed by months?

Sadly, this ill-defined co-decision process is an issue affecting many other areas of the European construction and most governments can be suspected of applying double standards when they claim to support the precedence of the EU while by protecting their own interests they make sure to undermine the authority of the European institutions.

This is exactly why the Eurozone continues to be frail where progress towards deeper economic integration has stalled: the deadlock brought about by divergent national and EU interests. Let us remember that during the crisis a ECB decision to implement a quantitative easing program similar to that run by the FED in the US, was postponed by at least two years by Germany`s resistance, fixating at the time on exploding inflation. Later on, reality showed that its fear was unjustified, but the move had already set back the recovery of the European economy several years behind the US. It is ironic that the most determined ECB call which managed to restore calm came from an…Italian ECB governor.

To better grasp the saga of appointing a European chief prosecutor we should remember the pressure put by France to have a Frenchman elected as the first governor of the Eurozone Central Bank. (Any resemblance to the European Chief Prosecutor procedure is in my opinion, not by chance) Finally, the trade-off was made and the Dutch governor, Duisenberg, was elected but saw his mandate halved to 4 years to spare the French any frustration. As 4 years on, the French governor, Trichet, had not managed to clear his legal problems, the term of the first governor was in the end extended to 8 years and the job was handed over to Mr Trichet afterwards. Yes, Europe`s great powers do not easily give up first row seats…

The fiscal union for the Eurozone dossier is another drawn-out issue, also for national reasons. In a nutshell, countries with budget surpluses or prudent fiscal policies, with Germany top of the list, are unwilling to fund chronic deficits mainly in Mediterranean countries. Of course, there will always be a reason, but the idea is that national criteria always find their way into the European decision-making process, thus constantly eroding its credibility.

It is not enough that the lack of a lingua franca constantly reminds us what a mosaic of countries and conflicting cultures the continent is, but now even the decision-making process on EU affairs has been designed to limit the relevance of EU institutions in favor of national interests, in particular those of the large countries.

And here is how a Europe kept on a short leash by national governments can result in slow, substandard and questionable decisions. Let us not forget that the same France and Germany made sure that their candidates managed to be shortlisted for the European Chief Prosecutor position.

And a final question:

Should the term of the first Chief Prosecutor be halved and a promise to elect a Frenchman for the next mandate made so that France accepts the non-French nominated by European Parliament and validated by the expert selection panel?

Have a nice weekend!

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