The role of the Commission in the Union

For the EU Open Day, Grahnlaw, a fellow blogger, asked: "What is your response to the continuously spread allegation about unelected elites in Brussels making 80 per cent of our laws?"

Without giving a full lecture on the European Union, let me first summarize a bit the situation.

On the one side, you have the well-know 3 major actors of the European Union:
  • The European Commission
  • The Council of the European Union (Member States)
  • The European Parliament

On the other side, since the Maastricht Treaty, The European Union is built on 3 distinct pillars:
  • European Community
  • Common Foreign and Security Policy
  • Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters
As more and more treaties got signed the EC got more to do and the Europarliament got reinforced.

As to answer Grahn's question, the EC has (absolutely) no prerogatives on the two last pillars. It is the Member States (through the Council) with a sprinkle of Parliament who make the show in those topics. I have no statistics, but I sincerely doubt the 80% figure, just due to this fact.

We play only in the first pillar. On this, it was agreed democratically that Member States will relinquish some powers to the Union (not to the European Commission, to the Union). And if you have read my previous posts, we can't go rogue: we either have the MEP or a committee on our back. Even if we have great autonomy, the Council has the last word in the vast majority of cases.

One truth must be told high and loud. In our dear Union, the Council is the main legislative power! Not the Commission, the Council... So I totally agree on one of your comments: "the Commission has weakened by the shift of the 'institutional balance' towards the Council".

So what do the Brussels Elites do for a living? We are not as powerful as some Eurosceptics would like to believe. We draft policies in our first pillar and we make sure that Member States don't deviate too much from the treaties. We are definitely not elected officials, we are technocrats.

Last but not least, at the European Commission, officials works for their respective Commissioners, who vote on decisions as a college. Commissioners are not elected but they are selected by member states (after lengthy and complicated negotiations) and approved by the Parliament.

So let's make things clear: More than often, the Brussels Elite are accused of messing up with national sovereignty; unfortunately, when you look in details at the law-making process in the European Union, Member States do a non-negligible part of the work and when the Commission is in charge, it has democratic watchdogs. People should not fall that easily on this populist belief. We are just an easy scapegoat for many governments to justify their failure.


  1. John Bruton, the former Irish Premier and current Union ambassador to the United States, some years ago estimated the proportion of new laws with an EU origin as approximately 70%. His party (FG/EPP)this week claimed the correct figure was 30%. According to Roman Herzog, former German Bundesprasident, an official parliamentary answer in 2005 put the figure for Germany then at 84%.

    Go figure, as the Americans say.

    P.S. It is very difficult to make comments here e.g. cut-and-paste is not permitted, and only the mouse can move the cursor

  2. What clock are you using ? It's 9.07 in Ireland as I write this

  3. Fergus,

    Interesting numbers indeed. But do not be confused with the EC (the technocrats) and the EU Council (member states). Could be that the total is above 80%, but I seriously doubt that the EC can do more than 30%...

    PS: Sorry for the technical issues, I am just using blogspot.