EU officials to have say on all member states' policies
Published 06/01/2012 | 05:00
EU officials may have to work permanently with national governments on economic policy, the Irishwoman who heads up the EU Commission said yesterday.
This would be similar to the emergency arrangements already in place for the bailout countries of Ireland, Greece and Portugal, where EU officials are part of the teams monitoring and assessing budget policy.
"I think something like this will be needed in all member states as part of the new arrangements for economic governance," Catherine Day, Secretary-General of the European Commission, told a meeting at the Institute for International and European Affairs in Dublin.
"We will have to have more detailed, country-specific knowledge in all departments of the commission, not just economic and monetary affairs," Ms Day said.
The response to the euro crisis had already given the commission huge new responsibilities and powers, whose implications few people yet seemed to grasp.
Brussels now had oversight of national budget processes. "It has the power to intervene, and to insist that budgets are based on independent data which is published in advance and subject to peer review," she said.
Ms Day agreed that attitudes towards Europe would have to change in member states if the new system of economic governance at EU level was to succeed.
"The commission itself will have to show political skills and sensitivity to the different realities in different member states. But it will only work if the member states want it to work," she added. They must act more collectively, and not just in separate discussions with the commission based on their own interests. A more integrated European Union was on the way, which will be very different from the existing set-up, she said.
"We saw what happened when details of the Irish Budget leaked from the German parliament. We have to have better ways of dealing with sensitive information, but it is going to be a whole new world where information like this is shared in advance."
The EU's top official warned against the idea of a "two-tier" union, but said the days of waiting for the slowest ship in the convoy were gone.
"Member states which want to do something will go ahead on their own, although it should be open to others to join in later so that we do not have exclusive groups," she said.
Britain's position would be critical in deciding whether Europe splits into inner and outer cores, with the UK trying to be a Hong Kong or Switzerland to the larger entity.
"This is a crossroads moment," Ms Day said.
There has also been criticism of France and Germany over the way they have driven the response to the crisis.
"Most member states are not happy with their leadership role. They are the motor of European progress but how that works in practice is very important," she said.
It was up to smaller states to argue for a system that gave equal dignity to all EU members. She believed there had been a reduction in the determination of small states to speak up for the kind of EU they wanted.
"Hopefully, the new inter-government treaty being negotiated will be compatible with the existing EU treaty," Ms Day said. "There is a very real danger of a two-circle EU emerging between the eurozone and the rest."