Accountability at the European Commission: the role of the European Parliament

European elections are soon, and it is for us, officials of the European Institutions, a very important moment that will shape our work for the next five days. It is also for me the occasion to talk about how much accountable Eurocrats are towards the European Citizens.

I am more and more bothered by those eurosceptic populists who like to portray the EC as a distant and uncontrollable beast, which comes up with stupid and irrational regulations. Once again, it is true that the Commission is a bit far away from the citizens, but is it not due in part to the laziness of European citizens?

The European Commission is in fact very much accountable to the citizens (also known as the Taxpayers) in several ways:
  • The European Parliament
  • The Member States
  • The Court of Auditors
  • The Ombudsman
  • OLAF
We are accountable through all these bodies (depending on the themes) and it is serious business! For this post, I will focus on the Parliament given the coming elections.

On many matters where treaties have given the EC the initiative on legislation, the Commission is quite autonomous in spending its bugdet. However, the Parliament has a "Droit de Regard", and many MEP do not refrain from asking a lot of questions. On our side we are required to give an answer to every single request (even the stupidest) fast.

This is what I call democracy and accountability. It surely happens at the national level in some countries, but rest assured that the crazy officials that we are, are controlled by a democratic body...

I actually welcome this scrutiny, because it just reminds us that policy isn't just a theoretical exercise. It might be harder to work through the politics of the Parliament, but it is much healthier. I quite enjoy when some colleagues get rebuffed by their parliament committee, thinking that their proposal was so well thoughts... That is not how it works, fortunate. It happens to me once as well, not so long ago where a proposal was put forward not in line with the objectives of the regulations, we tried as best as we could to disguise our text... but it was magnificently rejected by the relevant parliament committee. To be honest, it is often that we receive political pressure from cabinets, some times from ass-kissing directors, and we do appreciate when the MEPs come to rescue us.

So really, nothing does piss me off more that those people who just either don't vote at the European elections or vote useless parties and then complaint that Brussels is going too far. No vote, no voice!!!


  1. Although my general impression is that the European Parliament (committees) does a decent job, it would improve in a system based on government v. opposition, which would clarify alternatives rather then opaque fudge.

    Without waiting for profound reform, the European Parliament could enhance its own accountability by voluntarily posting all the meeting documents of its Bureau and the Conference of Presidents.

    Watchmen should embrace being watched, if they want to occupy the moral high ground.

  2. The Commission is barely accountable to Parliament. This is ridiculous.

    Citizens have no idea of what's going on in the EU institutions because nobody informs them, because the EU is largely a play field to benefit 'the markets' (i.e. those in power in business).

    Parliament can't even suggest the President or any of the Commissioners, not even to mention any of the Chefs de Cabinet and the members of the Cabinets who actually take the majority of the decisions on proposals.

    The body with the most power in the EU is the European Council. They are not accountable either because nobody in the EU ever votes their Heads of State based on Union policy, because nobody knows what on earth is going on (it's not taught at any public school and barely any private, there are no free courses to access, no european-wide digital television... nothing). The EU remembers the citizens once every 5 years.

    The Parliament isn't even elected on the basis of Union matters. I mean this post is just ridiculous. You get pissed off, privileged person that you are, lucky enough to have had the education and the means that got you in? A little less snobbery please.

    And to think I came to this blog looking for actual help.