Today we went to visit and be briefed on the European Commission. The Commission is one of the three decision-making bodies within the EU and is independent from both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Commission is composed of one representative from each member state, totaling 28 in all, and represents the member states’ interests in the EU. We were scheduled to have two briefings, one on the Commission’s role in the EU and the other on the implementation of the EU migration policy proposed by the Commission. Our speaker for both lectures was Ludo Tegenbosch, the Directorate-General for Communication.
Over the course of our stay so far in Brussels we’ve heard a lot about the Commission since it is the body responsible for proposing all new policies. We’d already toured another of the decision-making bodies, the European Parliament, and so I was excited to see how the two compared. Our first lecture was very information-heavy, with a lot of overview of the structure. The current president is Jean-Claude Junker, elected in 2014. There are seven vice presidents below the president, with the current first vice president being Frans Timmermans. Timmermans also sits in on the Parliament sessions, and I had a chance to see him last week when we toured there. Our speaker also discussed the EU in general, including a fact I found interesting, which is that the EU is known as a UPOL, or unidentified political body. This is because of its unusual structure and unique abilities, such as having speaking rights at the United Nations, the only international organization to have this. From there we dove further into the Commission, including how speakers are arranged in their meeting room and the Treaty on the Function of the European Union, or TFEU. This treaty set out, among other items, special procedures for when the Commission must share its ability to begin proposals. The two procedures are the consultation procedure, which states the Council of Ministers has the right to consult with the Commission on certain items, and the consent procedure, which says the European Parliament has the right to reject items such as trade deals right off the bat, giving a big chunk of power to the Parliament. Finally, we discussed how the Commission works with the member states’ national governments on competences; this is broken down into three areas. The first is exclusive competences, where the Commission has complete authority; the second is shared competences, which is as implied by its name, and the third is supporting/coordinating competences. This section includes areas headed completely by national governments, including tourism and health of citizens.
After a quick coffee break we rejoined our speaker for the second lecture, this one on the migration policy and refugee crisis. This lecture was very interesting to me since every site visit we’ve gone to has addressed this issue in some form. I always love hearing from different perspectives, especially on an issue as complex as this one is. We opened the talk with a quote by the Commission president, Junker, from when he took office in 2014; “I was an EU that is bigger and more ambitious on big things and smaller and more modest on small things.” This quote helped to put the migration policies since enacted into perspective; Junker’s aim is to provide as much assistance as possible on this very large issue, while keeping the EU’s borders tight and its citizens safe. This led us to discussion on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS); this has not been fully implemented by all member countries and our speaker stressed the importance of this system being put in place as quickly as possible. One reason he gave was to show unity in the face of the refugee crisis; this system also will help make the migrants’ transitions easier if all countries have a common policy. This system ties into its proposed Dublin Regulation, which aims at making one country in control of all asylum applications, to streamline the process and avoid refugees “asylum shopping,” or trying to find the most lenient member country to apply for asylum to. We finished up the lecture talking about challenges facing the Commission and its proposals, which included strengthening the EU’s presence at sea, fighting human traffickers while staying in accordance with international law and reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility.
This visit was incredibly informative and we were fortunate enough to have a very educated speaker. What I learned from the site visit helped me start to draw connections between the Commission and the Parliament, and I know when we visit the Council of Ministers I’ll gain an even deeper understanding of the EU’s inner workings. Tomorrow we head out to SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers of Europe, for an all-day security briefing, which is sure to be engaging.