A Bit More Delors Could Revamp the Commission
BRUSSELS: Who will be the next president of the EC Commission, and how powerful and well organized a bureaucracy will the commission be? These questions have begun to set the phones buzzing between the European Community's member governments.
The identity of the man who will take the top EC job in January 1993 is an issue that was not touched at the summit meeting last month in the Dutch city of Maastricht, where Community leaders cleared the way for eventual monetary and political union. Yet it probably will have greater effect on the direction and speed of European union during the 1990s than any other factor.
The personality of the man steering the EC Commission has become crucially important. Before Jacques Delors took over in 1985, the commission was headed by Roy Jenkins, an experienced but emollient British politician, and then by Gaston Thorn, an unexceptionable but undistinguished former prime minister of Luxembourg. Neither of them set Europeans' hearts racing.
Mr. Delors rescued the European Community from the doldrums. He arrived when Europessimism was at its worst. Although he was a little-known former French finance minister, he breathed life and hope into the EC and into the dispirited Brussels commission. In his first term, from 1985 to 1988, he rallied Europe to the call of the single market, and when appointed to a second term he began urging Europeans toward the far more ambitious goals of economic, monetary and political union.
The fear is that when Mr. Delors goes, European integration will quickly lose momentum. That is why most EC governments appear willing to go along with the unusual idea of extending Mr. Delors's period of office by two years, through the end of 1994. This prospect is being raised by Mr. Delors himself, because it would position him nicely to contest the French presidential election in 1995, while he is still fresh from Brussels. It is being welcomed elsewhere because it puts off the moment when a successor must be chosen.
The chief attraction of having Jacques Delors stay for an unprecedented fifth two-year term (eight years is the usual limit for commission presidents) is that he could use that time to overhaul the commission. Neither of the front-runners to succeed him, Italy's ebullient foreign minister, Gianni De Michelis, and the Dutch prime minister, Ruud Lubbers, has the inside knowledge needed to turn the Brussels bureaucracy into the sort of efficient executive organization that a united Europe will need.
Streamlining the EC's 16,000 bureaucrats into a more effective force must be a top priority. Although the EC Commission has gained strength and authority under Mr. Delors's leadership, it remains a ramshackle structure that is far from a European government-in-embryo.
At the top, an elite of fewer than a thousand senior officials has successfully developed the EC's single market strategy - an impressive feat, but one which disguises the many problems that beset the commission. Morale is poor, especially among lower-grade officials, who are nevertheless overpaid and safe from dismissal. For high-fliers, promotion can be painfully slow, and the need to respect national quotas within the EC's international bureaucracy sometimes leads to absurd appointments.
There are two faces to the commission. One is of a thrusting and sometimes idealistic administration that stands above petty national jealousies. The other is of a bureaucracy grown old before its time, hidebound and wooden-headed. If the commission is to play its part in turning economic and political union into reality, then radical measures will be needed to overhaul it and make it more efficient.
The time to do so is now. The commission's 23 directorates-general should be reorganized into a more logical structure that can be built upon if and when its political and administrative role in Europe is expanded. By happy accident, it will be easier to do that during the next few years because these directorates have lately been scattered around Brussels. The commission's star-shaped Berlaymont headquarters has just been evacuated as a health risk (due to an asbestos problem), and while it is being gutted and rebuilt the various fiefdoms can conveniently be rationalized and reformed.
Whether Jacques Delors is to be invited to stay on will be decided in the run-up to the Community's midyear summit meeting in Lisbon. If he is, he should seek a mandate at Lisbon to turn the commission inside out. If it is to become a European executive body it needs to define its purpose and role far more rigorously. This would be a fitting legacy for Mr. Delors to hand to his successor.
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