2015 Work Programme: “new start” or déjà-vu?
When he took up his post as President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker had set out ten priorities for his term of office. Their implementation started at the beginning of this year 2015.
During his presentation last July to the European Parliament of his ‘Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change’ Jean-Claude announced a wind of change: the European Commission was going to concentrate its activities in domains in which the European Union is genuinely capable of making a difference. Is this promise holding true?
Just as it does every year, the European Commission is adopting an action plan for the forthcoming twelve months. Its annual Work Programme translates the political priorities of the new Commission into a series of draft proposals for new legislation or regulations. The 2015 work programme, launched last 16 December, has the title ‘A New Start’ and contains quite a few innovations.
Better targeted priorities
“The gap between the European Union and its citizens is widening,” lamented Mr Juncker. “You would have to be really deaf and blind not to see this.” To restore confidence in its relations with European citizens, the new Commission particularly wants to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and pay greater attention to the subsidiarity principle and better governance. That is why the Commission is happy to present just 23 new legislative initiatives in 2015, compared with an average of 130 in previous years. These 23 initiatives flesh out each of President Juncker’s ten priorities, ranging from an Investment Plan for Europe to a package of measures for the Digital Single Market, and also include a European Agenda on Migration and an Action Plan on efforts to combat tax evasion and tax fraud.
This programme, focused on around 23 initiatives, is nevertheless worth examining closely. First of all, the terms ‘legislative packages’ or ‘series of measures’ quite often turn out to contain several proposals for legislation. The Commission is therefore indulging in a bit of wordplay, meaning that the true number of legislative proposals could well be double that of the number announced.
But that’s not all. It cannot be ruled out that other legislative proposals may be added to the agenda as a matter of urgency to cope with unexpected events. That is what happened in the Barroso II Commission, whose work programme, initially focused on other priorities, was turned upside down by the need to tackle the consequences in Europe of the global financial crisis which burst onto the scene in 2008.
One thing, however, is an absolute certainty: every new proposal coming out of the Commission will first have to be put to the test by being reviewed and passed by all seven Commission Vice-Presidents.
But what about the legacy of the previous Commissions? What about all the proposals still in the pipeline somewhere in the European institutions? According to the Framework Agreement between the European Parliament and the European Commission, “The Commission shall proceed with a review of all pending proposals at the beginning of the new Commission's term of office, in order to politically confirm or withdraw them, taking due account of the views expressed by Parliament.” Following this discontinuity principle, President Juncker’s services combed through the 450 proposals still on the drawing board and subsequently decided to recommend the withdrawal of 80 pending proposals now deemed stalled or obsolete. In some cases, these proposals will be replaced by new, more ambitious drafts, or proposals better matched to the ten Juncker priorities.
Working towards inter-institutional consensus
We have also been told about a change in the ways of working with the other institutions. “We would like to work together with the European Parliament and the Council to define the absolute priorities in the three institutions and to speed up their decision-making in such a way that citizens may quickly feel the positive effects of our proposals.” A basic necessity when you are aware of the number of Commission proposals that have ended up at the bottom of the pile on the Council of Ministers table or blocked in various European Parliamentary Committees. However, Jean-Claude Juncker can certainly count on the support of a major coalition of political groupings in the European Parliament, since both his candidature and his agenda won majority support from the majority of the political groupings inside the European Parliament.
All in all, there is just a touch of déjà-vu when we see these declarations for “change”, for “a new start” and for “targeted priorities”. In 1995, a fellow countryman of Mr Juncker took up the reins of the European Commission by announcing his intention to do better with less. The then President Jacques Santer committed himself to reducing the regulatory frenzy of the outgoing Commission in order to focus on “the real political priorities”. His keywords were subsidiarity, transparency and proximity to citizens: “Our programme focuses on what is concrete,” he declared proudly when presenting his programme for the first year of his mandate …. containing a mere 19 legislative proposals.
Leaders come and go, but good intentions still hang around …. and Europe’s citizens are patiently waiting to see the results.
Translated from the original text in French