As national calls for a ‘manifesto’ for EU reform take place on one side whilst the Commission make noises about UK taxation, I thought to ask myself which is the most important reform. Now those are important pre ambles . Taxation on property is direct and ‘Competence on direct taxation remains primarily with Member States’ . So on the one hand we want to debate and prepare for reform, on the other, carefully aligned with a niche domestic political agenda, the Commission are pushing their influence. That combination of Commission bureaucratic pressure combined with internal national divisions is how so many of our previous ‘wins’ on EU reform were eroded, a chunk of our rebate, the opt out on the social chapter and the opt out on the working time directive, and we have little to show for their loss as a result.
So unless the tendency for the Commission to keep pushing at its boundaries as a regulatory machine is stopped any reforms risk being ephemeral. Now the Commission has sole right to legislative initiative. That is, it alone can propose new legislation at the EU level (aside from unanimous acts in Council which are slightly different as they are a commitment to national acts). That right combined with its influence over the process of legislative approval is what gives the Commission bureaucracy its primary power and promoting legislation is a key career objective for many in its ranks.
Even more, it needs no permission for this, it can propose legislation on anything it can argue is compliant within the treaty. To my knowledge only one directive has been overturned once passed and that took nearly 8 years.
This makes the Commission a political power in its own right , way beyond the EU civil service as it is often described. Imaging if a meeting of Permanent Secretaries could put legislation before the House of Commons without any Ministerial involvement and force a vote.
The increasing influence of MEPs on the legislative proposal has , although less this time around, also added to organisational bias to a self perpetuating expanding regulatory acquis. Almost by definition the European Parliament as a whole likes to do things at an EU level.
So in order to restore some balance to this classic organisational bias and restore democratic accountability the ‘legislative initiative’ should be revoked. That would be my ‘most important EU reform’. Make them a civil service that only proposes legislation when a binding scope is agreed in the Council of Ministers.
As it happens that would also prevent our own departments covertly using EU processes when UK processes would block them and further reduce the need for the EU loophole in current deregulation policy. It would also give the UKIP MEPS less not to do!