In recent days, we have often read that the problem of timing — with governments, and in particular Berlin, taking way too long to decide on what action to take — is one of the reasons why the debt crisis in the Eurozone has come close to breaking up the single currency.
And when governments respond, they do so in a half-hearted fashion: by waiting for the Franco-German couple to take the initiative.
Willingly or perhaps not so willingly manning the helm, “Merkozy” has managed to pilot the euro through the shoals of the crisis — at least until now.
At the same time, their management of the emergency and the developments to come have enshrined the triumph of the intergovernmental method, favoured by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the President of the European Council and adroit weaver of compromises, Herman Van Rompuy.
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It is a method that has its advantages — we can react more rapidly, more effectively, and more legitimately when decisions are taken by government leaders — and its disadvantages: the absence of transparency and the de facto marginalisation of “small” countries.
The other drawback is that the intergovernmental method has sidelined community institutions (the European Commission and Parliament) to the point where it has weakened the entire EU, which is now perceived by the public as a part of the problem rather than the solution.
In spite of José Manuel Barroso’s demands for a more important role for the Commission — with, as a first step, control over the observance of the new pact for the euro — the institution he presides continues to viewed by commentators and a significant section of public opinion as a club of non-elected bureaucrats, which assumes that it can tell sovereign governments how to manage their budgets, and even how to apply austerity measures that are deemed to be inevitable.
This is the main disadvantage of the organisation that is supposed to embody European governance. Although they benefit from the approval of the European parliament, the European commissioners are not elected by citizens, but designated by member states.
This lack of direct suffrage has caused many Europeans to question the legitimacy of their actions. That is why it is desirable that they should be elected, either directly by citizens, or, perhaps more realistically in the short-term, by the members of the European Parliament.
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